Champagne

Champagne is great for celebrating the holidays, as a gift , or because it’s been a long year and you effing deserve it. It tastes great, pleases a crowd, and can be a great wine for food.

To help you navigate these wines this December, here are a few helpful hints about styles, producers, and sweetness that will tell you about what you’re drinking, and are easily identified on the label.

 

Style

NV (“Non-Vintage”) represent ~80% of the region’s wine. Producers blend in up to 20% of wines from previous vintages to balance out year-to-year variations in quality due to challenging climate and weather (it is farther north than Timmins after all…).

Blanc de Blancs are made entirely from Chardonnay. These wines are lean and deliver citrus and mineral notes. They age well and develop enticing notes of toast, brioche and nuts. Chardonnay represents less than 30% of Champagne’s vines, and great examples come from places in the Côte des Blancs like Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil and even Vertus. More likely to go with food and/or please your wine-snob friends.

Blanc de Noirs are made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They are typically fruitier (and more likely to please a crowd!), showing red berries, cranberry, apple and cream aromas and flavours. Pinot Noir adds more age-worthiness; Pinot Meunier adds fruit concentration but is best drunk young. Some of the best Blanc de Noirs come from sites in Montagne de Reims like Äy, Bouzy and Sillery. Bollinger is a great example of a Pinot Noir–dominated champagne.

Vintage Champagne typically comes from high quality grapes in a good vintage. and suitable for long ageing, during which it develops flavours of cream, hazelnuts, almonds and toast. Great vintages will often present concentrated fruit (think lemon peel instead of lemon juice). Some recent excellent vintages include 2012, 2009 and 2008 and will improve with more age if you have the patience. 2005, 2004 and 2002 are very good and drinking well, but if you can get your hands on some 2000, 1999 or 1998 then don’t hold back, just drink away!

Rose Champagne comes in a wide range of styles, so if you find one you like, remember the producer, sub-region, vintage and sweetness level for next time!

 

Producers

Champagne labels will indicate a two letter prefix: NM, RM, CM, MA. What the heck does that mean?

Champagne Houses carry the NM (Négociant-Manipulant) mark on their labels, and include the likes of Dom Pérignon, Moët, Taittinger, Veuve, etc. These are brands you can trust, but that you are also going to pay higher prices for. They buy grapes from the ~19,000 small growers (with an average vineyard size of ~5 acres) and blend them to produce a consistent house style. They also represent the majority of exported Champagne.

“Grower Champagne” have become really popular lately and are usually identified by the RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) mark. These smaller growers make their own, limited production wine and do not blend across vineyards. As a result, they can vary in character year-to-year, creating a higher ‘risk-reward’ offering given their (usually) lower prices versus the big houses. For many people, they represent a truly authentic, terroir-driven champagne. Great examples include Larmandier, Gimonet and Jacquesson.

Cooperatives can be identified by the CM (Coopérative de Manipulation) mark, and come from the pooled grapes of several local growers that lack wine-making equipment (often from specific villages). When it is branded for one specific grower, it will be marked as RC (Récoltant-Coopérateur).

Private Label champagnes carry the MA (Marque d’Acheteur) mark on their labels and are often made for a large retailer or restaurant. ND (Négociant Distributeur) is the mark of a buyer/distributor (not a producer) with their own label.

 

Sweetness

If you’re  stickler for dry wines (or sweet), then read this. Champagne’s high acidity means that it can handle a lot of sugar before it is perceived as sweet.  Basically, drier champagnes will indicate Brut Nature (a.k.a. Zero Dosage), Extra Brut or Brut on the label. Sweetness starts to get noticeable when you see Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux.

 

Alternatives to Champagne

Let’s be honest, Champagne can also get expensive. For cheaper options, look for Crémant from other parts of France, Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy. All of these wines use the “Champagne method” for producing sparkling wine, and deliver great value for money. Click here for the full list of recommendations at your local stores.

Thanksgiving Wines

wine and grapes


You worked hard to prepare this wonderful feast: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, brussels sprouts, gravy and cranberry sauce. What a treat, and what a challenge for wine pairing… You need to be sure to complement the food with wines that pair well and bring the best out of this great meal.

Ideally, your wines should have higher acidity to cut through the fat and refresh your palate throughout the meal. Whites with a hint of residual sweetness will help balance out the sweeter dishes, while red wines with less tannin will put less stress on your palate and avoid overpowering a delicious turkey. The more complex the flavours, the more it will resonate with the range of flavours on your plate.

So what does this mean? Avoid overpowering whites (Sauvignon Blanc or oaky Chardonnays) or low acid whites (Viognier) and big reds (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or younger vintages of Brunello, Barolo or Bordeaux).

Here are a few pairing ideas to make the most f the meal. Some of you are traditionalists and some like to buck the trend, so I’ve set out a few ‘Classics’ and a few ‘Alternative’ wines to consider. You can also find the full list of Thanksgiving wines at your chosen LCBO stores by selecting ‘Seasonal’ wines under Paul’s Picks (once you Sign Up—it’s free!).

Classics: White wines like unoaked Chardonnays or Pinot Gris as well as reds like Gamay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are a good choice. This means that whites from Chablis, Alsace and Soave or reds from Burgundy, Beaujolais, Lodi (California) and Puglia (Italy) are all in play.

Alternatives: If you want to impress your friends, or just show up your wine-snob in-laws, then white grapes like dry Riesling (from Austria or Australia), Pinot Gris (from Oregon), Albariño (Spain) and sparkling wines like Cava or Champagne work very well, and can be found in Austria while red grapes like Barbera (from Piedmont), Blaufränkisch (Austria), and Frappato (Sicily) are all great choices.

Click on this link for our list of Thanksgiving wine recommendations.

I particularly like the Terras Gauda Albariño (white) and Bouchard Aine & Fils Beaujolais  (a great value red!)