Wine Club Newsletter - October 2021
Here is an article I wrote to our club members eight years ago. I think it is a fun reminder of our upcoming holiday season, and just what Champagne is all about! GP
As the holiday season comes about, many of us turn our celebratory drinking thoughts towards Champagne. I try to keep those thoughts going all year long, but sometimes it feels a little to decadent to have Champagne when not marking a special occasion or event. I am working towards getting past that nonsense.
For instance, the other day I took off to play golf, and arrived home earlier than the wife. I am the cook in the house, so I started to prepare the evening meal.
Some 30 minutes later I heard the garage door opening, signaling the wife was home and would be entering and ready for a little appetizer and some type of adult beverage.
I had previously determined that we would have Champagne with our appetizers (cheese and grapes) because food is so spectacular with Champagne. As she opened the door to the entry hall, she called out announcing her arrival, waiting to hear back from me.
Instead of verbally calling back, I popped the cork on the Champagne (loudly, on purpose) and with that universal signal, she knew the day’s stresses and efforts would soon be floating away. Within seconds, she was enjoying the captivating sensation of delicate, tickly bubbles and the delicious taste of Champagne.
There was nothing special to celebrate. I played lousy golf, she had a hard day, but the mood changed as we switched tracks from the grind to the sublime. Sometimes Champagne makes the occasion rather than marking it.
Streamline Your Champagne Knowledge
Champagne is a mystery to many people. How it is made, where it is made, why is it pink, why is it white, why some are so expensive, what do those names mean, how do you pronounce them, it’s sweet, it’s dry . . . it can be really confusing.
First of all, do you like your wines or bubbles on the dryer side or on the sweeter side? If you’re not sure, I can tell you most people drink Champagne designated “Brut”, which means it is not sweet, but not totally dry. Other Champagne designations which are really dry are “Extra Brut”, “Brut Nature”, or “Zero Dosage”. These last three may be too dry for most people.
Champagne labeled “Sec”, “Extra Sec”, “Demi-Sec” or “Doux” are sweeter in style, even though the word “Sec” means dry.
A Champagne made from all Chardonnay or white grapes is called a Blanc de Blanc, while one made from all red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) is called a Blanc de Noir– “blanc” because the colorless juice from the grape is used.
A vintage Champagne comes from grapes picked during that one year, but most Champagne is non-vintage. Those non-vintage Champagne have older wines added to the younger wine to create complexity and often a house style. (More on that later).
A Rose’ Champagne can be made from both red and white grapes and can be tinted based on extracting color from the red grapes. Many modern rosé Champagnes are produced as regular of “Blanc” Champagnes, but they add up to 15% or so of a still wine, red Pinot Noir, to the finished wine. They believe this adds greater complexity and aging potential to the Champagne, and I wholeheartedly agree.
One of the best Champagnes I have ever had in my life (and best winery tours) was at Ruinart, where they served our group a bottle of 1986 Vintage Rose’, over 20 years old at the time. It was served at cellar temperature (57 degrees), and had amber/brick coloring, with a very complex aroma, super silken texture, delicate and very tiny bubbles, and just a total WOW! They make one or two of these special productions every decade or so, the price reflecting its rarity, about $400 a bottle.
Speaking of the high-end bottles, most Champagne houses make a “Prestige Cuvée” or “Tête de Cuvée”. These represent the best possible bottle of Champagne they can produce, sourced from the best vineyards, and made only in years where the weather and grape growing are exceptional.
In such a year, a “Vintage” year is proclaimed, and the producers will make their finest product from that year alone. One producer, “Salon”, only makes their Champagne in “Vintage” years, which is a mere few times every decade. That takes a lot of fortitude!
These “Prestige Cuvée” or “Tête de Cuvée” sit in the bottle at Champagne houses at least seven to ten or more years before they go to market. A great Champagne such as this will age a couple decades or more beyond the vintage year. They are exquisite after cellaring. But, unfortunately, we Americans tend to drink them too young (and too cold!) not actualizing their full potential.
On the other hand, our friends from Great Britain are known to prefer their Champagne completely mature. I love mature Champagne as well. They take on a deeper color, a touch of nuttiness, the bubbles are tiny and sparse (but still there), and the wine is very complex.
At this point I would like to strongly suggest you alter the way you consume Champagne. First, let it breathe for at least 30 minutes. Second, don’t serve it too cold. Finally, buy some excellent French Champagne, be it a non-vintage brut or a Tête de Cuvée, and cellar it properly for at least 5 years. You’ll be amazed at how these practices can really elevate your Champagne experience.
Earlier, I mentioned “House Style”. “House Style” is both important and helpful to help you determine what you producers are best suited to your tastes. All of the well-known Champagne producers make a blend that has distinctive characteristics and craft their product carefully each year to reflect their moniker. In the accompanying chart, I have listed the major Champagne producers, defining their “House Style”, as well as the name of their “Tete de Cuvee”.
Sometime soon I hope to be able to talk to you about Sparkling wines made here in California, the United States, and across the globe, as there are many great products to choose from.
Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie