No such thing as bad champagne
The 78,000 acres of vineyards in the Champagne district account for about 4 per cent of the overall total planted in France.
Of the 19,000 grape growers, a little over 2,000 produce their own wines in small amounts that are referred to as “grower’s champagnes”, and these have become quite fashionable.
Once a champagne firm becomes relatively large, it is customary to call it a “house” and there are approximately 260 “houses”.
Red grapes dominate with pinot noir and pinot meunier. Chardonnay accounts for the rest.
When I am asked to recommend a good champagne I normally comment that they are all good due to the very strict regulations that govern the production, but some are “even a little more good” and we like to think that we have a few of them.
Most champagne houses are now owned by outside corporate firms but in the case of Billecart-Salmon, two brothers and their father run the house as the family has done for more than 150 years.
Their wines are consistently rated in the top handful of names and, in fact, Decanter magazine just rated them fifth overall in quality.
Let the winemaker describe his Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve: “Fine bubbles which rise slowly, persistent mousse. Straw-coloured. A nose of ripe pear with some touches of cut hay. Full fruit, but clean in the mouth. This cuvée contains 40 per cent pinot meunier, 30 per cent pinot noir, 30 per cent chardonnay. All wines from the best sites in the department of the Marne, from more than twenty top vineyards in Champagne. The overall composition of this cuvée has not changed much for almost 50 years.” $52.25.
Laurent Perrier, another family firm, has done something really exciting as they have just introduced a brand-new wine to replace their traditional non-vintage blend.
They call it Laurent Perrier La Cuvée Brut and we have very recently received our first shipment, which is far more than just a rebranding project. The first upgrade is that, through buying and controlling more vineyards, LP now has tighter control of the quality of its fruit.
More than 100 crus selected by Laurent-Perrier now make up the composition of La Cuvée. To improve the ‘recipe’ the wine spends an extra year ageing in the cellar on the lees, resulting in a more complex and developed taste. The amount of reserve wines added has increased by 50 per cent from the Brut NV days, to ensure a continuity of style year on year. The cellarmaster has increased the chardonnay content — which is now up to 55 per cent of the blend — adding some aromatic freshness and sleek elegance too.
They have also reduced the sweetness of the dosage by 10 per cent. The result is a brighter, more delicate, cleaner feeling wine. $55.70.
Rosé champagne is so popular now, and I confess that it is my favourite. I feel fortunate that we stock the world’s most asked for, made 100 per cent from pinot noir, Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut.
Connoisseur’s Guide rates it 96/100 and writes: “Elegant and fruity at the same time with a quick invitation from bright, pure cherry-ish notes and then filled out handsomely by whiffs of chalky soils and well-integrated, rich and uplifting yeast-driven scents, this wine manages to be both vigorous and layered at one and the same time. Its bubbles are insistent, finely carved and add to the early sensations of lightness and energy yet also carry the wine long into a balanced, refined finish.” $91.95.
If you are up to the most spectacular package you could wish for, then try our Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades Brut Gold Non Vintage.
Maybe the fact that it is packaged in a golden bottle attracts you, or the fact that hip-hop artist and extremely successful businessman Jay Z is a major shareholder.
But do not let all that fool you as the champagne is actually of a very high standard, and in one blind tasting was even voted “best champagne in the world”. The Brut Gold is $277.35. We have a demi-sec, which is slightly sweeter, for $332.35; the rosé goes for $432.35.
•This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm</i>
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