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Our love affair with France

17 Feb 2018 by Nichola

As a nation we drink more Champagne than anybody else in the world (aside from the French themselves)!

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Linked with the rich and powerful since it’s conception and enjoyed by the masses; but why is it we have such a love affair with France’s most esteemed fizz? But why are we happy to spend on a single bottle of Champagne what might buy as many as four bottles of our usual tipple and how do we get the best out of the fizzy stuff. Perhaps the main reason we love Champagne so much is because the wine, now synonymous with the region, was designed for us. Up until the mid 19th Century Champagne’s main production wasn’t even white wine, let alone sparkling! The sparkling wine that was being produced was more of a rich, sweet sherry-like drink than the dry fizz we’ve become accustomed to – and why would we buy a drink LIKE Sherry, when we could just have Sherry?

This is what Pol Roger realised and, with a growing influence on the economy from the British Middle-class, he saw a gap. By the 1890’s better vintages saw riper grapes and therefore less need for sugar in Champagne; this was when Roger made his move. Selling wine to clubs, hotels and bars in the growing metropolis of London – building up reputations amongst the elites; musicians, philosophers and politicians (famously Winston Churchill).

Once a recipe was perfected by the larger houses - Pol Roger, Bollinger, Veuve etc. - the key to holding our interest was consistency, blending different vintages and grapes from different regions to maintain a houses distinct flavour. As demand for Champagne grew, the larger Champagne houses began investing in smaller “grower” houses buying grapes from throughout the region to maintain a familiar taste in their Champagne.

These “Growers” have gained real interest in the past decade, often offering greater value for money and, at times, more interesting flavour profiles than the larger houses, looking to represent Terroir rather than a house style. Unfortunately, this can often lead to a lack of consistency among vintages, although with the more established growers, such as our own Henriet Bazin, this fear rarely comes to pass. Instead wines are focussed, clean and full of energy reflecting a sense of time and place in Champagne.

The Bazin family have been running their business for 4 generations in the heart of Champagne hotspot Reims, with the best sites held in Verzy and Verzenay the Blanc de Noirs is a particular favourite.  What some people don't realise is that although most wine from Champagne is white, 70% of the grapes grown are black and a Blanc de Noirs is 100% black grapes, in Bazin's case Pinot Noir. The fruit in this wine is incredibly intense, with heaps of apricot fruit and a full, lingering finish. If you want to be converted to grower Champagne's this wine will definitely do the trick.

Alternately, there are those who accuse larger houses of a lack of flavour and personality due to the blending of different vineyards, Alexandre Cornot of Champagne Brimoncourt would beg to differ. Shaking up a seemingly obsolete house by producing their first wine since the 1950s, Cornot maintains a clear love for terroir, flavour and the spirit of Champagne, whilst injecting the house with a sense of modernity. We love Brimoncourt’s Brut Regence which is dominated by Chardonnay giving a clean refreshing floral champagne ideally suited to smoked salmon canapes or scallops. This is a classy and despite being lighter and crisper than some Champagnes it is satisfyingly complex and utterly delicious fans of Moet take note. With only 2g of sugar the winemakersskill is at the forefront of this Champagne

Whatever happens with regards to the Champagne regions future, the path it’s on continues to reflect a close tie with us Brits, and whilst Prosecco’s popularity grows, there will never be another drink quite like Champagne.

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