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Festive Bubbles…

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(2005) Verbier is without a doubt full of wine lovers. True wine lover and expert,  Peter Beaty will be writing articles for Verbier Life on local and international wines. Peter  has been involved in the wine industry for 15 years, as both a wine retailer/wholesaler and winemaker. Initially achieving a Masters Degree in ‘Exercise Biochemistry and Physiology’, Peter decided that his true passion lay in the field of winemaking. He undertook study in Australia whilst gaining practical in both the retail, wholesale and winemaking. Pete has extensive experience making wine in Europe, Australia, as well as North and South America.

Have we ever required a reason to drink champagne? There is always a reason to drink ‘bubbles’, champers, champagne, or whatever you want to call it . As Winston Churchill wrote, ‘Champagne should be a daily delight for those who know the true meaning of life’.

Delicate bubbles floating to the surface to create an inviting mousse, a bouquet of fresh fruits that can range from pear, citrus fruits, to peach and brioche – makes you want to reach for a glass now!

This magical drink has simply not appeared overnight. The fabric of champagne is interwoven with political intrigue, the rise and fall of royalty, and numerous conflicts. To appreciate champagne one must understand what is involved in the process that puts the bubbles into each bottle, and how that process evolved. It is a journey that ends in the whisper of gas as the cork is released, the delcate mass of bubbles forming as the wine is poured, and the sheer pleasure of the wine washing across the tongue.

Two is said to be company and three is considered to be a crowd. Champagne is the exception to this rule, the constituent parts being three grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay (as defined by the A.O.C. – Apellation d’Origine Controlee). The A.O.C. controls all aspects of wine production, from vineyard work to winemaking, to the geographical limitations of the wine regions of France. The drink we imbibe at times of celebration is the ‘penicillin’ of the wine world, created through mis-adventure. Initially, the Champagne region made still table wines (9th century); the wine would ferment until autumn and then cease fermentation due to the onset of cold weather. Then as the weather warmed the wine, which was under cork, it would recommence fermentation resulting in bubbles being formed in the bottle where they would remain trapped. Hence we had the accidental creation of champagne. It took Champagne luminaries such as Dom Perignon, Jean Antoine Chaptal, Madame Clicquot amongst others to harness and perfect the wine we now know as champagne.

Two styles of champagne are made: non-vintage (NV) and vintage. Non-vintage is blended from several different vintages (years) or from a single vintage that produced grapes of less than exceptional quality, vintage champagne is from a single outstanding year. It is not every year that a vintage is declared, only when the grapes meet extremely high standards (physiological ripeness, blance between acidity and sugar levels, etc) set by the A.O.C.. Surprisingly, non-vintage is considered the hardest to make, as the producer aims to recreate a consistent house style from year to year through the careful blending and selection of numerous base wines, as well as the use of ‘reserve’ wines from previous years. Even in the best years, no more than 80 percent of the harves may be sold as vintage wine. The remaining 20 percent must be held back for future blending, or the ‘reserve’ wines.

Stylistically, each Champagne House is different, ranging from the full-bodied (Bollinger), medium-bodied (Pol Roger), and the light-bodied (Dom Ruinart). The consumer is presented with numerous brands and styles to choose from, the following are my recommendations:

Serge Mathieu ‘Tradition Blanc de Noirs’ NV 30-40chf

Made from 100% pinot noir from the Bar sur Aube, the wine has plenty of fruit and is less acidic than other champagnes. Golden in colour, there is tremendous clarity of pinot noir fruit; the is is a serious from an eco-friendly  domaine that will please all who drink it! Decanter magazine has awarded this wine 4 stars on numerous occassions.

Champagne Gosset ‘Brut Excellence’ NV 40-50chf

Blended from pinot noir Premier and Grand Crus (45%), chardonnay (42%) and pinot meunier (13%) including 24% of reserve wines.The reserve wines assure consistency of style and quality whilst preserving fruitiness, flexibility and balance. Extremely rich aroma, with great complexity and elegance. It is a very fresh style, ideal to served as an aperitif. There is no malo-lactic fermentation permitted in these wines so that the wines retain their naturally fruity aroma.

Champagne Bollinger ‘Special Cuvee’ NV 60-70chf

A multi-vintage blend from mainly Grands and Premiers Crus and reserve wines (5-12 years old aged in magnums), this enables Bollinger to achieve great consistency of style and quality. This is the quintessential expression of the Bollinger style, matured for three years, the wine has strong dominance on the partially fermented pinot noir. This is a wine of power, depth and great finesse.

Champagne Krug ‘Grande Cuvee’ NV 200 chf +

Krug are still the only Champagne house to ferment their wines the old fashioned way using small oak casks which contribute to the intense bouquet and complex flavour. A wonderfully creamy bouquet that creates a delicious combination of weight and palate balance due to the exceptionally long maturation (6-8 years). After release from the cellars the wines continue to develop in complexity and develop an intensely rich, nutty flavour whilst remaining incredibly fresh. The finish to this exceptional wine is nutty and toasty with a definite flurish of freshness at the end.

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