What to drink…

Mas­ter of wine Richard Hem­ming en­joys a taste of French cham­pagne

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Glass of cham­pagne? It must be the hard­est of­fer in the world to turn down. Surely one of France’s most fa­mous cre­ations, cham­pagne is some­thing that ev­ery­one knows of but very few know much about. Here’s a quick crash course in the es­sen­tials.

The Cham­pagne vine­yard region is east of Paris, and only sparkling wine made within its bound­aries can use the name. The main grape va­ri­eties grown there are Chardon­nay, Pinot Noir and the closely re­lated Pinot Me­u­nier. Most cham­pagne is a blend of the three, but some may use only one of the va­ri­eties – for in­stance, any­thing la­belled Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardon­nay.

The key to cham­pagne qual­ity re­lies not just on grapes but on pro­duc­tion tech­niques. The sig­na­ture sparkle is created by re- fer­ment­ing the wine within the bot­tle, caus­ing car­bon diox­ide to dis­solve into the liq­uid. Once the yeast has died, the wine is then left in for at least 12 months, dur­ing which time a process called au­tol­y­sis takes place. This trans­fers flavour from the yeast cells (‘lees’) into the wine, adding dis­tinc­tive pas­try and bis­cuit flavours.

It’s a costly and com­pli­cated method, but one which is vi­tal for qual­ity. The fi­nal stage is to add a small amount of sugar to pro­vide bal­ance against cham­pagne’s no­to­ri­ously high acid­ity level. Most cham­pagnes are clas­si­fied as brut, which tastes ef­fec­tively dry.

Now, why not toast your new-found knowl­edge with one of these clas­sic ex­am­ples.

Louis Roed­erer, Brut Premier NV cham­pagne (from £28.50, widely avail­able) One of the bet­ter-known brands, Roed­erer is one of the most re­li­able cham­pagne houses. Non­vin­tage cham­pagne is blended from mul­ti­ple years to give com­plex­ity and con­sis­tency. This wine has three years of mat­u­ra­tion on lees be­fore re­lease, giv­ing it mel­low, ripe ap­ple fruit and fresh bak­ery aro­mas.

Moët et Chan­don, Grand Vin­tage Brut 2006 cham­pagne (from £39, widely avail­able) The brand leader of cham­pagne fully de­serves its place, man­ag­ing to pro­duce high vol­umes of great qual­ity fizz. Their Grand Vin­tage is a very se­ri­ous cham­pagne, and the 2006 is a great ex­am­ple – toasty, rich, full-bod­ied and op­u­lent.

Benedick, Lea & San­de­man Rosé Brut NV cham­pagne (£25.95 Lea & San­de­man) Full of peach fruit with a nicely nutty char­ac­ter too. Blended from Pinot Noir, Pinot Me­u­nier and Chardon­nay, this is clas­sic pink fizz with im­pres­sive con­cen­tra­tion. It’s rare to find pink cham­pagne this en­joy­able at un­der £30.

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