Champagne expert Giles Fallowfield took a team to Champagne to find out more about the region and hunt down some potential new suppliers
I was delighted to accompany Giles for Harpers Wine & Spirit on a 4 day trip incorporating visits to Reims, the village of Ay and a number of Champagne houses and growers.
Prior to this trip, I had the impression of Champagne as a special occasion drink. I am a great fan of cremant, sparkling wine from around France, and Franciacorta, you know, the other sparkling wine from Italy. Would I be convinced that Champagne had enough about it to warrant spending the extra money?
Well, yes, and no. After spending 4 days drinking nothing but champagne, and matching to a variety of dishes, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the wines pair with food. The quality of the local food is excellent not because we were dining in top end restaurants, but because the local cuisine shows great diversity and influence from other countries, all within a region that many think of as being somewhat conservative.
Indeed since returning to the UK, my own home cooking has broadened, and yes, I have opened a few bottles of bubbles. Every time the food and drink combination has worked very well. Champagne goes brilliantly with a broad range of dishes.
Top of the list of surprises; red meat. I’ve paired a fillet steak with both a Blanc de Noirs and Millésime, if cooked rare, the pairing works particularly well.
Pictured here, we had the Castelnau Millésime 2006, the fillet on a bed of mashed potatoes, mushrooms and jus. The Millésime blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Mernier makes for a well balanced wine, but I am tempted to suggest that a Blanc de Noirs showing more fruit notes works better with red meat.
It’s less of a shock to find a range of seafood dishes that are enhanced beautifully with a Blanc de Blanc, try Turbot & Asparagus, fabulous when in season, indeed most white flesh fish will suit. Sticking with the colour themes, rosé is very much at home with prawns, salmon and trout, I have become quite fond of baking either trout or salmon. Just a simple marinade of lemon, honey and mustard, plus finely ground pepper, foil wrapped and into a a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. The foil retains the juices for pouring over before serving. It’s such a quick dish, you can take the wine out of the fridge whilst waiting for the fish to cook, and pour a quick glass to while away the time, and allow the wine to breath for a few minutes.
I’ve also been exploring whether there is a need to allow sparkling wine to breathe. Considering Champagne will have been aged for at least 5 years, and most good producers won’t release a wine until 6 years, there is a good case for doing so, if the oxidisation process is allowed to take effect, the wine will be more expressive, releasing some of the fruit flavours that might otherwise difficult to discern. Back in London, we opened the full range of Castelnau wines on the same day, and therefore were able to track from their afternoon opening and first taste, re-chilling and sampling in the evening and then transporting some of the wines across London to a tasting, home and into a domestic fridge, and back to Stonewines the next day. All of the wines survived, the Blanc de Blanc was the most resilient, I actually felt it was a better wine 24 hours after opening, the rosé also showed more fruit flavours but possibly the bubbles were less vigorous. The Reserve lasted to 4 days retaining bubbles and freshness.
So am I a convert to Champagne?
Every wine tasted showed great balance, from the citrus and apple fruit Blanc de Blanc through to the earthy and black fruit Blanc de Noir that works so well paired with red meats.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the purchase price of Champagne. Whilst fully understanding the labour intensive production process and time taken to produce a single bottle, this does mean that every day consumers will still limit their purchases to special occassions. The ‘special occassion’ tag has become engrained. Sparkling wine from other parts of France are able to produce excellent wines at a fraction of the price, for example Loire and Burgundy.
As I write this, England have just reached the Rugby World Cup final, and guess what, I’ll be taking home a bottle of Champagne.
The full article by Giles appears here