Champagne – keeping the thrill alive
“I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” ~ Madame Lilly Bollinger
I’m sure you recognise this particular historical figure and it’s no surprise that she was such a fan of Champagne. Australian consumers have never been more familiar with big brand Champagne houses such as Bollinger and, like Lilly, they’re no longer saving Champagne for special occasions. Certain Champagne labels (think Veuve Clicquot, Moet, Billecart) have always had large marketing budgets. They’ve become even more accessible in the last few years, in part due to parallel imported Champagne: with cut-price bottles of their Champagne flooding the market the big brands have been forced to offer more competitive pricing. While some of these houses have maintained their prestigious reputation despite mass popularity, I believe other brands have lost some of their association with luxury and indulgence. Another development is that wine professionals have begun to encourage the drinking of Champagne during the course of a meal, not just at the beginning or end.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking Champagne all night or our enthusiasm for the marquee brands but I can’t help wanting to hold on to that feeling of Champagne being something special. Among my friends at least, I still notice a thrill when we decide to spoil ourselves with Champagne instead of sparkling or any other wine. This is justified by more than just the price tag: the region of Champagne is truly unique with its northern location, matchless soil and distinctive climate. Most importantly, it produces a simply amazing product. Still, if the glory of the famous Champagne houses are fading for you, how can you sustain your enjoyment of Champagne and hold on to it as a marker of significant occasions?
As someone who knew only 5 or 6 growers, my answer was to seek out those little known artisan producers who are making Champagne to the highest quality and offer something a bit different. The best way to learn is always through doing, so in April this year I took the opportunity to visit the Champagne region and its two famous towns of Reimes and Epernay. During this reconnaissance trip I attended three industry exhibitions and was able to taste Champagnes from 13 artisan growers, including Vin Clairs (the base wine for Champagne), and receive expert advice. I liked the fact that the French restaurants I visited divided their Champagne lists by villages rather than producers, allowing diners (me!) to discover other Champagne producing villages in the region that they may not have come across before.
None of this knowledge would be of any use to you except for the fact that, to my delight, most of the new Champagnes I discovered are being imported in limited quantities to Australia and are now available at La Vigna. These Champagnes are coming into the country for delivery to Australia’s top restaurants and would otherwise be unavailable – now La Vigna have been able to track down these fantastic wines for sale in-store. As a bonus, many of these Champagnes are very affordable and the quality is superb; they just haven’t had the same mass marketing push as the big brands. Among the labels worth exploring are:
Champagne Bereche & Fils
Champagne Rene Geoffroy
Champagne Egly Ouriet
For me, these beautiful artisan wines have restored the lustre of opulence to Champagne and returned it to its rightful place as my celebration drink of choice – even if I do still indulge a little in-between!
December Blog Special
With the Christmas season fast approaching I have put together a mixed dozen that includes the Champagne Bereche as mentioned above.
The mixed dozen selection is available for only $300 (plus delivery) and includes the following:
- 1 bottle Champagne Bereche Brut NV
- 1 bottle Giribaldi Moscato d’Asti
- 2 bottles Ibizian Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 bottles Wittman 100 hugel Riesling
- 2 bottles La Vielle Ferme Rose
- 2 bottles Puleo Nero D’Avola
- 2 bottles Don Ramon Grenache Tempranillo
You can order more than one mixed dozen, but the selection of wines is fixed as listed above. Order by opening the Wine order form below and once you have submitted your request, I’ll be in touch to arrange payment and delivery.