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Champagne- A primer

I've always wondered why people drink champagne so infrequently, when in fact you can find a very good bottle for a reasonable price, as long as you are willing to focus on some of the smaller growers.

I think that people assume that champagne is expensive and it can be, but often it is no more than a basic bottle of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, so why not enjoy?

I find that champagne can go well with most any meal, as long as it isn’t to highly spiced, and even that could work if you tried a demi-sec.

Here is a little crash course on champagne. Champagne is rated by how much dosage or sugar is added for the final fermentation. It is this second fermentation which creates the bubbles.

Extra Brut/Zero Dosage:  0-6g/liter residual sugar
Brut:  5-15 g/liter residual sugar. This is the most common champagne you are likely to encounter.
Extra Dry /Extra Sec: 12-20g/liter residual sugar
Sec /Dry: 17-35 g/liter residual sugar.
Demi-Sec: 35-50g/liter residual sugar
Doux: 50+ g/liter residual sugar.

Champagne is then described as NV (non vintage) and Vintage. All champagne growers and houses have a certain style or cuvee which they strive to maintain.

In extraordinary years they will declare a vintage, which means that rather than blending many different years of grapes to create the cuvee, they will use the grapes only from that vintage year. This gives you a distinctive difference in style, as the grapes are allowed to display their own unique charm.

NV champagne is the most common champagne, followed by prestige blends, or cuvees and then by vintage. Price increases accordingly.

In the second part of our crash course on Champagne, we will discuss how to pair champagne with food, how to find a good bottle for a reasonable price and I will share a listing of some good champagnes at all price levels.

Champagne is remarkably easy to pair with food, as it works with most any dish and cuisine. I particularly like it as an aperitif and with canapés. The only exception, as mentioned previously, is very spicy food. I would not suggest this as an ideal champagne paring, as the spiciness tends to overwhelm the champagne.

So, now that we all want to find a nice bottle to try out, where can you find one? Ideally, you want to deal with a local wine merchant, as they will be able to give you the best advice. Avoid the grocery stores, as they are normally really expensive, as champagne for them is an impulse buy, so they feel no need to be price competitive.

Also, I can highly recommend one of the online sites, K&L Wines. They are west coast based but ship worldwide and their collection of champagne is second to none. You can view their champagne at . They are a great resource to learn more about champagne.

Be willing to try some of the smaller champagne houses, as they do not have the advertising expense and overhead that the larger producers will have. I have found many top notch champagnes, that were much better than the standard big champagne names and they were also about $10.00USD per bottle cheaper. 

Finally, I think you should start your tasting with French champagnes, as this is where champagne originated. After honing down what you like, you can try some locally produced brands and see which you prefer. In the USSouth Africa and some Euro countries, there are some very good sparkling wines and they are certainly worth a try.

To start you on your way, here is a list of some of the best and most interesting champagnes on the market. This is only a small list, so be adventurous and enjoy.

Champagne NV 
Perrier Jouet 
Pol Roger
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin  
Collard Picard
Henri Goutorbe
Elizabeth Goutorbe
Andre Jacquart
Beaumont des Crayeres

Prestige Cuvee’s
Tarlant, Cuvee Louis
Franck Bonville, Les Belles Voyes
Ruinart, Blanc de Blanc

Billecart Salmon-Rose

Bollinger, Grand Annee or RD
Pol Roger, Cuvee Churchill
Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, La Grande Dame


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