Tuesday, 20 December 2016

XMAS SPECIAL - CHAMPAGNE

Normally, I would not write anything in reference to what to drink around xmas and nye, but recently the influx of opinions have put me in a position that as a Champagne drinker I have to concede and say something.

People are talking about the review of 'Which?' in relation to Champagnes best buys. Yes, I think it is a marvelous thing to impartially advise on what is good and/or what is a good buy.

I have always been following the supermarket brands of Champagnes and they all have changed. The best one I remember was actually Waitrose Blanc de Blancs which is made by Mesnil from Cote de Blanc. I have to warn you that this is not a classic Champagne! And neither is a pure Blanc de Noirs! The quality of Champagne varied, and so did the taste. This is not only because of storage, stocks, price, shipping or my mood, but inevitably trends and bottom line. I remember when Tesco did its pure blanc de noirs which was exquisite. I also remember that Sainsbury's blanc de noir was a bit dull and hard to drink.

Anyway, what struck me in the article was the declaration of what Champagne should be; whoever said it is biased and probably never listened in or been to Champagne. The rule number 1, the ultimate rule of Champagne is ABOVE ALL, balance! All champagne wines, the fizzy kind, are always balanced, that is the ultimate rule to which all Champagne houses adhere! Everyone! So whether you are Louis Roederer, Laurent-Perrier, Salon, Krug, Bollinger, Deutz, Charles Heidseick, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouet, Delamotte, Mumm, your key mission in creating your cuvee is balance. Now, this may seem trivial, but achieving balanced cuvee in a region that is so diverse in producing varied intensities of each of its grape varieties is quite a mission. Champagne producers are so good at it, that it is taken for granted. A good example is how other regions outside of Champagne have managed to achieve balance - just to revert to my previous entries, Akarua fizz from New Zealand is a perfect example of good balance; or Graham Beck from South Africa.

The next rudimentary criterion of Champagne is a bit more elusive but it is one of the fundamental blocks in drinking Champagne. Champagne has to drink itself; by that I mean that if you are drinking Champagne with every glass you drink you want more. This is chiefly down to the alcohol content but the style plays an important role as well.

Now, one more thing you need to know. Remember that the likes of Moet, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl etc are made in volumes and I mean loads. The question of quality of grapes will be important to pose. As much as all are Champagnes the quality of the grapes is on the lower scale; save tesco, as it indicates they have a premier cru (and if I am not mistaken, Waitrose actually has grand cru).

So what to drink this year?

Well, if you are on a budget and you need to buy loads to cater for a large group of people, get the Tesco Premier Cru.  Overall, it is a good wine, good price, it has been consistent, plus it is from one of the best villages in Champagne.

Although I am going to be slandered for saying this, Lanson is on special and despite the fact that LVMH have stripped them off all the good vineyards, they keep producing consistently good wines! The NV is on special, but if you can get the vintage, or the Cuvee Noble you won't be disappointed in quality, sensation and price.

As regards, Piper or Moet, well, there is a reason why one is called Pepsi and the other Coke of Champagne.

The two Champagnes I drank in the past few months, were Bonnaire and Lalier. So if you can get your hands on those you will be guaranteed to have a sensational experience.

So, merry holidays. :)

Saturday, 10 December 2016

CHAMPAGNE BOLLINGER - SPECIAL CUVEE - BASE WINE TASTING

I was invited to a tasting of the blend of the Special Cuvee in March this year. The tasting took place mid April and you might wonder why I have not written about it. Well, for a variety of reasons: a, the tasting, as an experience, robbed me of all the words to describe it b, I was professionally involved with wine, and I didn't think to impart critical thoughts about any aspect of it publicly c, it was one the things that I never thought I would achieve, or experience so naturally, the shock from the whole thing was both, intense and long lasting c, the tasting was filled with so many new sensations that I still haven't quite reconciled my emotions about them. To be really honest, this kind of experience, was something I had always wanted but because I have always been on the periphery of the wine world, I never thought would materialise.


I am no different in recognising that Bollinger is a highly respected brand in Champagne and in the world of wine, commerce, branding, entertainment, sensation, banking, fashion or in more simple terms, Bollinger as a brand is intricately woken in everyone's fabric of life. Those that know me would argue that Bollinger is my favourite brand, but that is not true as, for instance, this year my favourite, is Ayala (incidentally, owned by Bollinger). With Champagne, it is important to understand that every house, well most at least, does endeavour to convey a unique style, and the Champagne appellation is a great platform to allow so many producers from one region to deliver different expressions, or more pragmatically, products.

So the panel consisted of me, my colleague from the shop I used to work at, a few writers, the local reps and who knows else. One thing I have to remark on, is that I was surprised how little, or ill prepared others were. We were taken through the 2015 Pinot Noir from Tauxieres, 2015 Chardonnay, 2015 Pinot Meunier and from 2014 all basic varieties, along with 2006/7/8 reserve wines stored in magnums. The magnums are a unique thing to Bollinger and I was curious how much the reserve wines contribute to the style. To add, we tasted the cepage/blend before 'pris en mouse' and aging. Naturally, it was a brilliant analysis of the process of creating the Special Cuvee, what Bollinger declares to be the vehicle, or the flag ship, of the House of Bollinger; a sort of naked tasting of Bollinger. To gloat about how unique the experience was, apparently it was the first time Bollinger did something of this kind outside of Champagne.

I wasn't the only one who was impressed with the 2015 Pinot Noir. I would call it 'Le Perfume de Bollinger' but that would be a complete lie because I would die to know what the base wines for Vielles Vignes Francaises (VVF) must have tasted like. The wine was a smack in the face and there wasn't just one 'wow'. Denis Bunner, deputy cellar master, understatedly declared it only as 'expressive'. Just to give you an idea, Tauxieres is a village in Montagne de Reims which is famous for growing the best Pinot Noir in Champagne. Its slopes are north-east, east, south-east and south facing which give the grapes differing intensities in expression. So if the Tauxieres intensity had an enormous wow factor, and it is south east facing, with added sun of south facing slope of Ay where Vielles Vignes Francaises are grown, I am very excited about what VVF will reveal in a few years time.

In Champagne blending is something of an art. It is crucial and in many respects one of the key features of Champagne as a wine. To blend variety of still/base wines from differing grapes and differing plots with differing intensities and further work with production methods to achieve a distinguishable style isn't exactly the easiest task but with a years of experience and an ongoing dialogue and honest opinions it is evidently achievable. And it is clearly achievable not only by The House of Bollinger but many others. So much so, that even a layman can tell the difference; and that is the actual point.

But that is not just what Champagne is about. :)

More some other time!