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? 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 house's 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 Serveaux estate is located in the Marne Valley where it is the humble pinot meunier grape which is most widely grown. Indeed, the Pur Meunier Champagne (£35.99) is an exemplar in what can be achieved with the correct care. With grapes from the 2015 (30%) and 2016 (70%) vintages and matured on its lees for 36 months before disgorgement far longer than is legally required. With the faintest hint of pink, the nose is aromatic with scented peony and red berries, followed by more red fruit, and delicate brioche on the palate with the mineral quality and touch of salinity that is typical of pinot meunier from Passy-sur-Marne. The Carte d’Or £33.99 is an altogether more familiar style - white peach, pear and brioche on the nose, with lovely, sweet biscuity and pear flavours. A persistent and gentle mousse complements the fresh, lively palate.
Another exciting addition to our range of grower Champagnes is the Pierre Mignon 2015 vintage (£39.99) sourced from carefully managed sites across the Champagne region. The house style leans toward Champagnes that have a fresh, vibrant character, which begins with a rigorous attention to the quality of the fruit. This is a properly aged Champagne crying out for seafood, which reflects the excellent quality of the vintage. Worth spending a few moments to enjoy the aromas of plum, peach and toasted almonds on the palate; hints of citrus and brioche give it a delightful balance. Perfect for drinking now but it still has great cellaring potential.
Henri Giraud Hommage au Pinot Noir (£87.99) is a sensational Champagne from a house with a big reputation, sometimes described as; "the best Champagne house no one has heard of." The Hommage is their celebration of pinot noir, beguiling and opulent with red berries and a touch of spice, this is a favourite with all at A&H. Lallier Grande Reserve Grand Cru (£39.99) has been trusted here for many years and the Grand Cru selection of vineyards has conferred our trust in the legacy this House has fostered since 1906. With great complexity and finesse, their emblematic non-vintage has a freshness and vivacity essential in any Champagne worth the name. Lallier also delivers an equal measure of ripe fruit, toasty brioche and an elegant long-lasting aftertaste.
With climate change threatening this most precarious of terroirs, the vagaries of taste and style challenging a wine that has relied more than most on fashion to give it glamour, and the challenge from a world of pretenders to the throne. Whatever happens to the Champagne region's future, the path it’s on continues to reflect a close tie with us Brits, and whilst other sparkling wines have their place, there will never be another drink quite like Champagne.
Blog post by Nichola Bottomley