Champagne has been around for centuries and it is thought even that the first sparkling wines were actually made by accident, as a result of wine being bottled before it had finished fermenting, this meant that the ferment continued in bottle & created bubbles which made the wine sparkling. It wasn't until the 16th century that wine was deliberately made sparkling & even then they weren't aware of how to regulate the second fermention. This combined with that fact that the glass bottles weren't strong enough to withstand the intense pressure of the bubbles meant that bottles of Sparkling Wine would explode, in fact back in the day being a cellar master was an extremely hazardous as not only would one bottle explode but it would start off a chain reaction with as much as up to 90% of bottles in any one vintage being lost. This unexplained phenomena earned sparkling wine the nickname of "The Devils Wine" as people believed the only explanation was that the wine must be possessed.
Although he wasn't the original creator of Champagne (as most people think) the Benedictine Monk Dom Perignon was a pioneer in perfecting the subtle art of making champagne. He also helped to establish the set of strict wine-making rules that still Champagne houses still must adhere to today.
The amount of rules that a sparkling wine must adhere to in order to be called a Champagne is extensive! I'm not even going to start down that track as I would break the internet! I think the one that most people know is that Champagne must come from the appellation of Champagne in Northern France. To give context Champagne is about the same size as Waikato, a relatively small area but the business of Champagne is worth a whopping 4.74 Billion Euro with approximately 312 million bottles being produced annually. Champagne makes up 30% of France's wine exports. Needless to say it's a massive business!
One of the key things to remember about Champagne is the difference between non-vintage and vintage Champagne. Every year a non-vintage Champagne will be made but vintage Champagnes are only made on the very best years years. So how do you know? Easy. If your Champagne has a year on it, then that's a vintage, it is the best wine that a house can make, it's the most prestigious, the Champagne that has been aged longer and if cellared correctly will age excellently & most definitely a more expensive Champagne that one without a year on the label.
Great Champagne should have vibrancy and the bubbles should be lively on your tongue & appear both light and mouth filling at the same time. One that definitely fits the bill is Lanson, made in 1760 Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne houses and has a subtle toasty characteristic with honey flavours and delicious fruits & citrus. This time of year Champagne is the cheapest that it will be all year round and you can get this wine for as low as $60 this time of year - an absolute bargain considering you are buying a Champagne that has been around since 1760. I'm such a fan of this Champagne, it is an amazing drop that is completely underrated considering the quality & history.
A better known Champagne is Perrier Jouet - is is so hard to dislike this Champagne not only because it is absolutely delicious but also because it looks so beautiful. PJ always focus on beautiful design & this year's box is a gorgeous festive green and gold. This Champagne is available also for as low as $60 at Christmas (which is crazy inexpensive) and oozes lime, honeysuckle, vanilla & apples. Wow!
I loved the idea of Bollinger even before I tasted it as I was a fan of Ab Fab back in the day - does anyone else remember the catch phrase of Eddie & Patsy "Boli Darling, Boli Sweetie" then an old boyfriend bought me a bottle for a romantic picnic for my birthday and I realised it was also one hell of a Champagne! So many different apple flavours as well as stonefruit, pear & even walnut - can you believe you can get a Champagne as complex & delicious as this is available for as low as $80....I honestly wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes! Also Bollinger is one of the last remaining independent Champagne houses that is still family managed.
There is no doubt about it Champagne is a pretty special drop & I am a firm believer that ever so often you have to treat yourself to something special! Click the link to hear my chat with Annabelle White on the subject :)