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It makes any event go with a swing, but with so many styles to choose from, buying Champagne can be more than a little confusing. Fionnuala Synnott matches the style to the occasion
No celebration is
complete without a glass of bubbly, and Champagne is a sure way of injecting sparkle into any occasion. As well as making your family, friends or clients feel glamorous and festive, choosing a
carefully made wine like Champagne is a quality statement.
Even though a lot of people don’t know it, there are a great number of Champagnes to choose from. ‘It isn’t until people try our tasting menu and taste from Duval-Leroy to Bollinger that they realise how different one Champagne can be from another,’ says Xavier Rousset, co-owner of London restaurant Texture.
Champagne is a word that refers to a family of wines, so there’s a right one for every occasion – whether you’re out to impress on a first date or celebrating a successful business deal…
The majority of Champagne is non-vintage (NV), meaning it’s a blend of wines from different years. NV blends are created to produce a consistent style from year to year, which means no nasty surprises when you order. Henriot’s Brut Souverain is a good bet, as are Laurent-Perrier’s Brut and Bruno Paillard’s Première Cuvée Brut. NV Champagne is often served as an aperitif but it’s great for getting a party going and should appeal to everyone, from new Champagne drinkers to wine snobs. It’s also the most affordable – meaning it’s a perfect choice for a large crowd.
If NV fizz is a good crowd-pleaser, then vintage Champagne is the choice when you’re trying to impress that special someone – whether that’s your other half or a new client. It’s more expensive, since it’s made in smaller quantities exclusively from grapes grown in a single year, so it will also show you’ve made an effort. It is only produced in the best years, which makes it ideal for marking a special date such as an anniversary or a special birthday. ‘I might serve a vintage such as Pol Roger 1999 to a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary,’ says Master Sommelier Gérard Basset. If you can, try to get hold of a vintage from the late 1990s; 1996 was a great year for Champagne, while 1998 and 1999 were also good. What’s more, vintage Champagne’s fuller flavour makes it ideal to serve with food, so a bottle can see you through an entire meal – making that special moment last longer.
At the top of the range, prestige cuvée Champagnes are the best of the best. Because of their three-digit price tags, these fizzes are often bought to impress, but despite endorsement by rappers and celebrities, some, like Bollinger’s Grande Année, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle and Henriot’s Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, are genuinely worth the money. Thankfully, given the price, a little goes a long way, because the flavour is so intense. These special cuvées make good presents to mark a big occasion such as graduation, an engagement or the birth of a child, but they would also make a great choice for a sophisticated hen night or special dinner party. Prestige cuvées are also popular in the business world, where drinking them is a sign that you’ve ‘arrived’. ‘When it comes to celebrating professional success, people often choose Dom Pérignon or Cristal as it conjures the right idea. Others might choose Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, Pol Roger’s Sir Winston Churchill or Dom Ruinart,’ says Basset.
Previously seen as a bit of a girly choice, rosé Champagne has recently grown in popularity, even among the most manly of men. For obvious reasons, rosé is often a favourite on romantic occasions such as Valentine’s Day, but it is also great with food. You could surprise dinner party guests by matching rosé Champagne with a rare tuna steak or even game. Henriot’s rosé goes brilliantly with a Parma ham starter, while Gosset’s Célébris Rosé is delicious with anything, even on its own. Rosé Champagne also goes well with dessert. ‘It is quite refreshing at the end of a meal with a light dessert such as fruit or a summer pudding,’ says Basset.
Don’t be afraid to stray beyond the big brands either. Some of the best Champagnes are made by small producers, and buying them can not only save you a few pounds but also make you look like an
expert. Larmandier-Bernier is particularly good if you’re a Chablis drinker who likes flinty wines, while Pascal Doquet’s Champagnes tend to be fuller and fruitier. Both are well made and have
From a cosy tête-à-tête to a large, boisterous gathering, Champagne’s diversity and party image make it the perfect match for special occasions. Now all you have to do is choose the one that suits you best.