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Champagne – Show me the bubbles!

A necklace of bubbles adds to my uniqueness while my sparkle dazzles you. Your happy moments are where I take my first breath. I can either be pale gold or an elegant rosy hue. Your choice. Who am I?

A necklace of bubbles adds to my uniqueness while my sparkle dazzles you. Your happy moments are where I take my first breath. I can either be pale gold or an elegant rosy hue. Your choice. Who am I?

The famed Mark Twain once commented, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Champagne defines a region in France and the wine to which it gave birth. It is a festive symbol and often associated with celebrations, happiness and joy. The only liquid that can actually be legally labeled as ‘Champagne’ has to be made in the Champagne region of France. All other forms of Champagne are technically sparkling wine. Because of the limited amount of the beverage which can be produced in this one region, it is priced higher. If you are drinking champagne, clinking glasses and flashing a dazzling smile, you are considered the life of the party.

Made from three primary grapes, namely Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, great care and extreme precision is required to produce the outstanding varieties of Champagne that we enjoy today. Pinot Noir, a black grape variety with white juice, gives the champagne its aroma of red fruits as well as strength and body. Pinot Meunier, again a black grape with white juice, gives roundness and suppleness, while Chardonnay, a white grape, provides finesse and floral overtones (that’s a very important attribute!). Today, Champagnes are consumed as an aperitif, during the course of the meal, or indeed at any moment of the day or night.

The experts talk, we listen
Rajiv Singhal, the Ambassador of Champagne to India, said, “Largely a scotch drinking country, India is opening up its palette to wines and welcoming the wine culture with open arms.” Until recently, Champagne was seen as an aspirational drink and every Indian wanted to be seen sipping a glass of champagne due to the spirit’s association with status and style. Off late, the perception is changing and Indians now appreciate the true beauty and taste of the spirit. Singhal also mentioned that champagne consumption has been growing in India in the last 10 years. However, India consumes around 2,00,000 to 2,50,000 bottles per year, which is a measly figure compared to the 30 million all over the world.

Daniel Lorson, a native Champenois, and Director of Communications at the Comite Champagne (CIVC), shared his expertise on the festive wine at the recently held champagne tasting during the The Champagne Week 2010 in Mumbai and New Delhi. I experienced the magical wines from Champagne which undoubtedly promise to convert non-champagne drinkers. The tasting showcased a variety of champagnes – from Brut Sans Annee to Cuvee Prestige. He stated that India is a developing market for the sparkly wine but the only drawback is the humid climate which gives rise to the problem of conserving and safely transporting the wines. He hopes that with apt education and training imparted to hotel personnel, who will eventually come in contact with consumers, Champagne will be seen at every social gathering and celebration. He wants Indians to be educated enough to point out and explain a particular champagne instead of just quietly sipping it.

Back to basics – The ABCD of Champagne
Like two thumbprints are never the same, I learnt that champagnes usually have different colour due to their different origins. Best served at 8 degrees Celsius in a tulip shaped glass, it’s hard to miss the enticing bubbles that define this type of wine. This sparkle, as you may wonder, is born of the long marriage between yeasts and wines in cool chalky cellars.

Lorson decided to start the tasting with zero dosage champagne. The soft pop of the cork and the murmur of the bubbles catch your attention and the hue of the wine captivates the eye. I would advise you to pay attention to every aspect of the champagne when you taste it. Inhale the aromas before taking a sip and explore it on your palate. Champagne is more than just an alcoholic beverage or a wine – it is a feast for all the senses.

Your eye will distinguish between the crystal paleness of a young and crisp champagne and the deep traditional gold colour of a mature champagne. My sense of smell played with woody and citrusy aromas and tried to recognize flavors. On the other hand, the second sip transports you with a tingle of effervescence and an aromatic persistence which varies from wine to wine. Roll the champagne around your mouth for a few moments as there is bound to be a dominant impression as with any wine. Try to define the nature of the Champagne you are drinking. Is it sophisticated? Is it apt for a dinner for two or a New Year party? Also, take a moment to analyze whether the wine would go with a main course or dessert?

While opening or undressing the bottle (as it is often called), try not to destroy the beautiful labeling. Leave the noise to the band and merry makers. Let it open it with a soft sigh! (yes, women love the sound).Contrary to belief it isn’t louder the pop, better the champagne.

This way or that?
Progressing from champagnes with the least or zilch sugar to the ones with the highest amount of sugar, my palette started opening up to the variety of tones. Ayala, an aged wine which has no residual sugar (zero dosage) was very dry but not too forceful. According to me, it was ideal champagne to open up the palette and prep it for the others.

The Philippe Gonet, a greenish rich champagne, has about 8gms of sugar and undertones of grapefruit and citrus. But I still found it very dry. The ever so popular brand in India, Veuve Clicquot with about 12gms of sugar, was a refreshing change to the tongue. A classic non-vintage with ripe fruity undertones and a touch of toasty notes to it, it did justice to being called the perfectly blended champagne of all three grapes.

A favourite with women, the Taittinger Brut is a classic Rose (another type of Champagne). An almost instantaneous hit with the fairer sex, it has a rosy discreet colour, not the usual raspberry shade, which I learnt is achieved by mixing 15 per cent red wine. The Rose has a fruity raspberry scent which is appealing to the nose. With the apt amount of acidity and freshness on the palette, it is no surprise that the Taittinger Brut is developing in a market like India and is ideal for a romantic Valentine’s Day.

The last two 1996 vintage wines were served together. Veuve Devaux, which is pronounced as one of the best vintages of the second half of the 20th century, was incredibly fresh and acidic with a lot of volume. With a composition of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Veuve Devaux had an enticing and wholesome feel to it. The Pol Roger 1996, also called the Winston Churchill because of his preference towards this champagne, has earned it a respectable place in every champagne tasting. According to me, the Pol Roger was finer than the Veuve Devaux and according to Lorson was extremely acidic and would be better in five years time. Both these wines are savory wines and should not be matched with food!

The more you taste Champagne, the more you learn. Take in the magical atmosphere that the spirit creates and let your senses overpower you. Popularly known as ‘the temple of wine’, be sure to hold the glass by its stem so as to avoid interfering with its temperature. Welcome the liquid that dances on your tongue and escalates your mood. With almost a thousand tiny explosions of flavour popping at once in your mouth, experience the zest you will instantaneously feel. The bubbles almost feel alive inside you – alive and ready to celebrate! If this doesn’t make you want to celebrate, I wonder what will. Looking for a cause to celebrate now, are you? Salut!