So you have sized up the right property, got the right price and now it’s time to celebrate your success. What better way to do it than with a bottle of fizz. There is certainly plenty of ordinary champagne out there that’s great for shaking up and spraying all over your friends, but I’m talking about serious wine here, the type of thing that deserves a bit of respect. Even the name given to these Champagnes shows this off, they are the Prestige Cuvées.
If I was given £200 and told I could spend it on one bottle of wine, I’d go straight to the Champagne section. Each of the big players produce a top wine in very limited quantities and only in certain years, the following six wines are all completely different in style and they are all wonderful.
It was a French monk, a chap called Dom Perignon, who is widely thought to have ‘invented’ Champagne. Now the romantic’s view is that this fellow sat for hours on end trying to think of ways to improve his wine and eventually hit on the magic answer of making it fizzy. The reality is in all likelihood a bit more squalid. At it’s most basic, you get bubbles into Champagne by adding a little sugar and a little yeast to a still wine and sealing the bottle. The fermentation that takes place produces Carbon Dioxide which dissolves into the liquid because the bottle is sealed, hey presto, fizzy wine. Thing is, if you don’t clean your winery properly (no stainless steel and fairy liquid in DP’s Day), you can get this effect occurring anyway so his ‘invention’ was more than likely an accident.
It is however a happy accident and one that led to serious investment and development of the Champagne region. As with all wine areas, people came to recognise that certain parts of the fields produced better grapes and they started to make wines using only these top quality bunches and Prestige Cuvees were born.
There are two major types of Champagne, non-vintage and Vintage. The difference being that the vintage wines can be made only from grapes grown in the year stated. The following wines are all vintage Champagnes.
You have all heard of Dom Perignon and for many years this was the most well-known of the top Champagnes. The current 1996 vintage is being touted as one of the best years in living memory and with good reason. Near perfect ripening conditions at the end of the vintage meant wines with power, complexity and elegance. ’DP has a rich and full flavour to it that is consistently good.
Modern times and the tastes of certain ‘musicians’ have brought Louis Roederer Cristal to the fore. Tales of Champagne fights in St Tropez and the fact that you can have a bath in the stuff in Dubai have driven the price way up. Even so, if it’s got to go ‘bling’ the Cristal is the bottle for you. Created specially for the Tsar of Russia by Louis Roederer this is sumptuous stuff, but you would do better to keep it for a few years as it improves greatly with age.
If you want something a little lighter, join Joan Collins and indulge in Perrier Jouet’s Belle Epoque 1996. A wonderfully elegant champagne and a beautifully presented bottle, this is more elegant than the others with a delicate palate but a long finish.
Feeling patriotic? Then follow Winston Churchill’s advice ‘My tastes are simple, I am easily satisfied with the best’ and the best for him was Pol Roger. Following his death they created the eponymous wine in his memory. Undeniably one of the very top wines on the planet, but due to its relatively low profile, not a stupidly inflated price. The high proportion of top quality Chardonnay in this wine mean it will age very well, but it is pretty hard to resist it for long.
Strange as it may seem, Krug’s 1990 is one of the best bargains available in the UK right now. Consider this, their non-vintage wine costs around £80, having been aged for eight years. This vintage wine has been aged for nearly twice that time. T also comes from the stellar 1990 vintage, yet it is available for under £130. Try buying Cristal 1990 for that price, you’ll get a nasty shock. This is rich, full-bodied, buttery, nutty, complex champagne at it’s very best. It will take on all manner of foods but for me this is best enjoyed all on its own.
Finally, if your fizz just has to be pink and you want to splash out, then Champagne’s first lady stands head and shoulders above the rest. Made only in the very best years and in tiny quantities, La Grande Dame Rosé is something truly special. Created in honour of the widow Clicquot who arguably has done more than anyone else in history to turn champagne into a luxury commodity, the flavours in this wine are almost endless. Brioche, strawberry, raspberry, fresh cream, biscuit, I could go on forever, needless to say it is a real treat.
A final postscript and a heartfelt plea. Please, please don’t use these wines as an alternative body wash or to perform Schumacheresque histrionics in your garden. Oh yes, don’t be tempted to make cocktails with them either, make buck’s fizz with cheap champagne and expensive orange juice or I’ll set the wine police on you.