If there was ever going to be a national day to celebrate Champagne, it had to be New Years’ Eve. Britons purchased a record 164m bottles of sparkling wine in 2018, with a quarter of them being enjoyed in the last week of December. Despite the growing popularity of Prosecco and British sparkling wines we still have a soft spot for Champagne. It’s very often the choice of our happy couples for their wedding toasts, but we’re happy to personalise the Ross and Ross Bar with whatever takes their fancy!
Champagne is the world’s favourite French sparkling wine. Wine has been made in the Champagne region since before medieval times, with the Romans being the first to plant vineyards in north-east France in the fifth century.
Contrary to legend and popular belief, Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine, as sparkling wines weren’t the dominant style in Champagne until the mid-19th century. The first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally when the pressure in a faulty batch began making corks pop and bottles explode. With a bit of refinement, the fault became a feature and Champagne as we know it was born.
Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, but many legal structures reserve the word Champagne exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region. Over 70 countries respect this geographical designation, and sparkling wines made elsewhere simply can’t use the name!
The process in which Champagne is made is called Méthode Champenoise, meaning ‘fermented in the bottle’. Every Champagne brand keeps its exact recipe a closely guarded secret, but the process of production is very similar. Only certain grapes can be used to make Champagne, with the most popular being Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. 90% of all blended Champagnes use 2/3 red and 1/3 Chardonnay mixes. After an initial fermentation and bottling, the second fermentation takes place within the bottle. According to the appellation d’origine contrôlée a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour.
Making Champagne is a lengthy and labour intensive process, which contributes to the sometimes eye-watering price tags!
Champagne is traditionally served in a Champagne flute, with a long thin stem and a tall narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom. The shape of the flute reduces the surface area to preserve the bubbles!
We’re big fans of bubbles here at Ross and Ross, and we’re big fans of Ruinart Rose, the very first rosé champagne dating all the way back to the 18th century, but we also love Pierre Vaudon. If our clients prefer to choose something British for their toasts, we often opt for Nyetimber‘s award-winning bubbles from the rural heart of the South of England. We get all our wines and fizz from the wonderful Haynes Hanson and Clark. George always looks after us really well and assists us with menu pairing when needed.
All Canapes go well with Champagne – that’s what they’re made for. But we feel the Cured Salmon Spoons particularly go well with fizz, as well as the wonderful (and vegan-friendly) Beetroot Crisps with Beetroot Tartar. But don’t forget to make sure you’ve got our amazing Scotch Eggs or Giant Sausage Roll on the list to soak up some of that alcohol during the drinks reception!
As 31 December is also New Year’s Eve, there’s a good likelihood that you were planning to pop a cork or two anyway! It’s definitely an excuse to spend a little more and get a very special bottle. Supermarkets stock an ever-increasing range of Champagnes and sparkling wines in the run-up to the festive season, but if you’d like a little guidance, your local wine merchant can offer some expert advice.
If you’re looking for food pairings with fizz, there are plenty to choose from. Fish and shellfish go very well, as do salty treats like chips, crisps and cheese. Could fish and chips be the perfect accompaniment for Champagne? The dryness of sparkling wines cuts through the richness of indulgent foods as well, so it’s a wonderful drink to enjoy with creamy desserts and puddings.