“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
Jerome wrote these words. Better known as J. D. Salinger. Whenever I read them, I always imagine ‘her’ with a flute of Champagne in her hand, hair tousled and sexy, with an air of unfettered you’re-looking-at-me, I’m-not-looking-at-you going on. And of course, to my mind, she is French.
Pour me a glass of fine Champagne, and I can even become her.
Champagne has that utterly cool transformative quality, doesn’t it? Sure, it demands the drinker meet it half way, pay attention, and notice its intricacies. But in return, it yields, unfurls, and reveals layers. Cooked apple, freshly rolled pastry, perhaps a note of almond or warm brioche.
Obviously I’m talking about fine Champagne here—the stuff made by the better makers. Quality varies dramatically producer to producer, swinging from sublime to battery acidesque. But buy from a reliable house, and the wine won’t let you down—or, ahem, the boss/spouse/mother-in-law. Champagne brings joy to the world during any holiday season. So jot down a few of the following trusted names before setting out to the wine shop.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV
Reminiscent of tarte tatin—that caramelized French apple flan—except bone dry, seriously crisp, and layered with barely there notes of almond, lemon, wet stones, and warm bread. A trade favourite.
Food pairing: Salted popcorn
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV
This fresh and lively Champagne tingles with notes of bright citrus and Granny Smith, but quickly evolves in the mouth to reveal notes of warm bread and creamy lemon curd. Very persistent finish.
Food pairing: Potato chips
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV Brut
Biscuity flavours underpin notes of crisp apple, white flowers and wet stones. Fine bubbles and resonant length.
Food pairing: Smoked salmon
Pol Roger Brut Cuvée Reserve NV
Expansive flavours of brioche and nut, as well as stone fruit and a certain mushroom note I always associate with Pol Roger. Broad and muscular while maintaining elegance.
Food pairing: Scrambled eggs
Lanson Black Label Brut NV
Solid value at a relatively reasonable price. Classic flavours of butter pastry, lemon, apple and toasted hazelnut threaded with mouth-watering acidity and tiny, lacy bubbles. Delicate and delicious.
Food pairing: Sautéed mushrooms
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV
Enticing aromas of brioche and glazed cherry lead to a fleshy yet taut attack. Well-balanced and rich with extract. Excellent dry rosé.
Food pairing: Seared scallops
And for something extra special…
Krug Grande Cuvée Brut
By far, the richest French fizz on the planet, this Champagne tastes like fine white Burgundy with bubbles. While the nose toys with cooked apple, creamy lemon curd, toasted brioche, and an unmistakable vanilla top-coat, the attack on the palate is a simultaneous and harmonious melody of complexity, elegance and power. There’s cooked apple, fresh coconut, warm toast, creamy vanilla, dry minerals, and butter anchored with titillating acidity. One of the interesting things that sets Krug apart is the fact it conducts primary fermentation in small oak barrels, which is highly unusual for a Champagne house and adds the charms of wood to the wine. Probably my favourite Champagne!
Food pairing: Poached lobster
Louis Roederer Cristal Vintage 2004
Brilliant yellow colour displaying light amber nuances, combined with an ultra-fine, persistent, soft effervescence. There’s an intense, highly expressive bouquet on the first nose. The aromatic elegance and precision of Chardonnay is apparent: white fruit, sweet pollen, fine citrus fruit and very pure minerality. After a few minutes, the aromas move on to more confit, lightly grilled hints. The bouquet is rich and sweet, almost generous, remaining precise and impeccably refined. The bite in the mouth is full and creamy, revealing an incredible concentration of juicy fruits: yellow peach, apricot, mango and others. This silky, meaty concentration, which is both dense and soft – and typical of great Pinot Noir – is immediately combined with a sophisticated touch of acidity, bringing the wine alive with minerality. The over-riding impression is one of a true harmony of flavours, senses and silky textures. Absolute sensuality.
Best sipped solo.
Wine critic and London-trained sommelier Carolyn Evans-Hammond is internationally recognised for her witty and light approach to the topic. Her latest book, Good Better Best Wines, soared to bestseller in Canada and the US within weeks of release, and her work is catalogued on her website, http://www.wine-tribune.com
She is a member of the UK Circle of Wine Writers and the current Vice President of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada.