Pete Stewart recommends
WITH oysters on the menu and with the Chicago Bears taking on the Falcons in their season opener, our thoughts turn naturally to Champagne. Too often, we only consider Champagne for a celebration when in fact it can be a lovely treat on a Sunday.
Champagne is a sparkling wine from the area of the same name around Reims in France. It has to be bottlefermented, which means that the fizz is created in the bottle that you take home and enjoy. It is usually a combination of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The two Pinots are red grapes, but they’re not included to add colour to the wine, rather structure and fruitiness. All of the colour is in the skins, which are wheeched (technical term) away before the juice has been affected.
Some producers prefer a lighter, more elegant style so they focus on the Chardonnay grape. If the wine is made entirely of Chardonnay, you’ll see Blanc de Blancs on the label. Other terms you’ll find on the label include Brut (dry), Demi-Sec (off dry, or medium) and Non-Vintage (NV) which means that the juice has come from a number of harvests over the course of three or four years. This allows the winemaker to produce a consistent style from release to release, therefore if you liked Veuve Clicquot the last time you tried it, the next bottle you buy should taste the same.
Other household names in the Champagne world are Laurent-Perrier, Bollinger and Lanson. They each make their own particular style.
Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut NV (Majestic, £35.99). My go-to fizz: it’s soft and approachable as well as being very food-friendly. The DemiSec is also worth seeking out as it’s a crowd-pleaser and the perfect aperitif.
Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV (Majestic, £39.49). This is a bigger, richer style of fizz so you can match it to bigger, richer dishes. Favoured by secret agents everywhere.
Lanson Black Label Brut NV (Majestic, £25.99). Lanson’s point of difference is that they inhibit malolactic fermentation in the winery. This is a natural process that softens wine by changing the acidity from malic acid (like in apples) to lactic acid (like in milk). Most Champagne houses allow it to happen, but Lanson prefer to (in their words) preserve the integrity of the fruit. This means that a glass of Lanson will always have a more pronounced acidity than any of the other brands. Don’t let that put you off though, it’s still a lovely Champagne. And, as Monsieur Lanson says: “I only make wine for myself, what I can’t drink … I sell.”