Friday, 7 September 2012


I am late! I am late with writing about the last ICD. Any excuse? Lack of inspiration to write!

But not lack of inspiration from drinking.

Ten years after I resumed, in fact fully immersed myself in, drinking Champagne I changed my mind about what I was going to drink and took a chance on a recommendation from a shop assistant and bought two bottle of a small producer.

One, I thought was a straight blanc des blancs but when I tasted it was a very unusual Chardonnay but I doubted what I tasted. The colour had pinkish hue, the nose was earthy and big, the taste was robust, the impressions were of Pinot Noir not of Chardonnay. Three glasses in, and I could swear it was Pinot but I dismissed the notion because all the time at the shop the assistant was telling me it was a straight Chardonnay, but just as I poured the fourth glass I looked at the label and realised that it was indeed a Pinot Noir.

A few weeks later, I met up with someone who had been in the hospitality industry for years and knew the ins and outs of it in Norway. I know very little, save the results of my limited research. Despite my research or his validating experience, I was told something interesting: 'In Norway sommeliers (and laymen too) prefer  smaller producers to the big ones'. He stated the reasons why that was so, which were mostly regarding the production ethics.

Whilst I can understand the reason behind the professionals' attitudes toward smaller producers, when a layman is actively encouraged to drink the same wines as the professional and dissuaded from experiencing the big one, I strongly object! Of course, objection of any kind in Norway, let alone strong ones, are frowned upon.

I think it unfair that taking advantage of someone's ignorance for financial gains, and I am not naive, it impairs the layman's ability to assess wines intrinsically.

Why do I think that? Simply, the big ones, Grande Marques, are big for a variety of reasons. Their production extents over at least dozen of decades and the knowledge and expertise is passed on with the view of maintaining individual style. Not only there is a greater proven record of the variables of vintages, but, with generosity, four decades, don't compete with in the case of the oldest house, 251 years of experience. Of course trends have changed among other things but the 'CHAMPAGNE' buzz is essentially based on those brands. The big brands have more capital to invest into the sources, the training of wines, extended contracts of growers etc.

The most important aspect however is the end user. What does he know? How much does he drink? How much does he earn? I often face the objection of money. I was a student when I started exploring Champagne, and to date I maintain a view that students are the richest consumers of alcohol.

At any rate, a layman would have to drink at least 100 liters of Champagne a year and dedicate a enormous amount of time and funds to learn about the big names of Champagne. While for a professional, the big ones are unexciting at times, nevertheless, they already have the experience of the big ones while the layman, with credit, has only little experience. To devalue the professionals, it is not often the case where an average professional would drink a full bottle on his/her own and experience the development of the wine after opening. A layman must bear in mind that a professional often looks for flaws in the wine, and they have to encompass the entire world of wine to give a layman some idea of what it is they are about to purchase. And at last, it is the big ones that established the mark up on Champagne that the professionals make money on, so no wonder they will recommend the best they can for their pocket with the notion that their recommendation has to live up to the expectations of the layman, but on what experience are the expectations of a layman based?

Bottoms up!