Champagne is a wine that conjures up images of grandeur and celebration, and a fantastic selection of champagne is coming up in our Fine Wine and Whisky Sale on 29th April including bottles from the most prestigious champagne houses such as Dom Pérignon, Krug, Taittinger, Dom Ruinart, Bollinger, Lanson, Veuve Clicquot and Louis Roederer.
The wine is made exclusively in the Champagne region in northern France. The soil here is made from an ancient pre-historic sea floor, which has created the perfect chalky soil for cultivating the grapes used in champagne and imparting a unique flavour. This is a small but lucrative area, extending over just 130 square miles. Much of the region is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it has had a rich and fascinating history. For example, during WWI, the extensive network of champagne cellars and chalk quarries acted as shelters against bombings, as well as serving as homes, schools, hospitals and a way to travel undetected by the enemy. Indeed, many of the cellars are still marked by this history today.
Due to the northerly latitude, grapes grown in the Champagne region struggle to ripen fully, and have high acidity and low sugar levels which produce lighter bodied wines. Until the 19th century, still wine was the predominant produce of the region, however, cold winters stalled fermentation. When temperatures rose in spring and the dormant yeast cells became active again, excess carbon dioxide would be released into the bottles resulting in a bubbly drink which was seen as a fault. Unfortunately, it also caused intense pressure to build up in the bottles, and for centuries exploding bottles caused havoc in cellars until tempered glass was invented. This led to champagne being called the “Devil’s Wine”. The taste for sparkling wine began to gain in popularity in the 18th century, however, controlling the volatile process of making champagne took decades to perfect.
Dom Perignon 2006 Champagne, six bottles (Estimate: £650-750 plus buyer's premium)
This house was named after the famed Benedictine monk who, according to popular myth, first made sparkling champagne. In reality, he contributed to the quality of wine in the region that eventually lead to the champagne that we know today.
Dom Pérignon was established in 1921, however, their champagne was only released for sale in 1936 in the first-class lounge of liners sailing to New York. A shrewd commercial move, it was brought to the attention of the wealthiest of travellers and 100 cases were subsequently shipped to the US, with the likes of tobacco mogul and billionaire James Buchanan Duke ordering large quantities for themselves. According to current Dom Pérignon cellar master Richard Geoffroy, who has been Chef de Cave for the house since 1990, the first 1921 vintage had a "distinctive bouquet comprising sandalwood, vanilla and praline".
Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne (Estimate: £150-250 plus buyer's premium)
Krug, established in 1843, is the champagne favoured by her Majesty the Queen and indeed the house has been referred to as ‘the king’ of all producers in the region for decades. Indeed, the Krug 1926 and 1928 vintages have been considered by critics to be amongst the greatest of champagnes. In the modern era marketing campaigns for the wine have included notable figures such as Jean Nouvel, Anjelica Huston, Buzz Aldrin and David Lynch. On the nose, Krug is characterized by toasted, grilled pastry or almond notes born from at least 6 years of ageing. On the palate, Krug is characterized by notes of fresh fruit, particularly citrus, and a freshness linked to grape selection. The drink has a legendary freshness and it strongly identified by its aged nutty influence and dry taste owing to its barrel fermentation.
Louis Roederer 1994 Cristal Champagne (Estimate: £150-250 plus buyer's premium)
The Louis Roederer champagne house was established in 1776 and is one of the last independent and family run champagne houses. Tsar Nicholas II nominated Louis Roederer as the official wine supplier to the Imperial Court of Russia. Being a resourceful, practical man, Louis Roederer fashioned an exclusive champagne for the Tsar in 1876, named ‘Cristal’. This bottle was clear with a flat bottom which meant that the wine could be checked first to ensure it was not hiding a device or threat to the royal family within. This is the same infamous Cristal champagne beloved by celebrities today. Ever since the days of the Tsar, the subtle and elegant taste of the Cristal has helped forge the Louis Roederer reputation for excellence.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose 1973 (Estimate: £200-300 plus buyer's premium)
Established in 1932, Taittinger is one of the newest of the elite champagne houses. Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux. The space had been used as a command post during WWI, and was where Pierre Taittinger had been treated after suffering a heart-attack during combat. His stay inspired him to purchase the Château and enter the champagne business. Despite the house being one of the youngest, the vineyards of the Château have been planted with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes since the 18th century. In 2017, it was announced that Taittinger had become the first champagne house to plant vines in the UK, establishing a vineyard in Kent. The first wine will be available to buy in 2023.
The house of Veuve Clicquot was founded in 1772, making it one of the oldest of the leading houses. The name ‘Veuve Clicquot’ pays tribute to Madame Clicquot who in 1805, at the age of 27, took over the running of the business when her husband died, ‘Veuve’ meaning widow in French. She became one of the first international businesswomen in the 1800s and undertook an apprenticeship to learn more about the industry and to prove herself to her business partners. Madame Clicquot is famed for introducing champagne to the nobility across Europe, building the basis for the fine reputation the wine has today. The Russian court in particular were big admirers of Veuve Clicquot, with Catherine the Great being a significant consumer. The Russian market demanded a very sweet champagne compared to the ones produced today, containing double the amount of sugar found sweet dessert wines. In 1987, a shipwreck from 1913 was discovered in Michigan containing several cases of Veuve Clicquot. The champagne was tasted and found to be excellent, despite the dark colour. This led to the house submerging 300 bottles into the exact location of the wreck for much-anticipated future sales.
How to Enjoy your Champagne
There are various types of champagne, and here we shall break down some of the terminology used to describe this most illustrious drink.
- A Blanc de Blancs is a white champagne made exclusively from chardonnay grapes.
- A Blanc de Noirs is a white champagne made from red pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes.
- A Brut is a dry wine, meaning that it has a minimal level of sugar, with less than 12 grams per litre.
- A further helpful term to know is ‘mousse’, which is the foam that appears at the top of the glass of champagne when it’s poured.
- Good champagne should exhibit a ‘collarette’, the name of the bubble trails up the sides of the glass.
Champagne should be served chilled, between 8 to 10 degrees Celsius. A quick way to cool down your bottle (and maintain this desired temperature) it to use a mixture of ice and water in a champagne bucket. This liquid mixture means that more of the surface area of the bottle is being cooled. A wine key should be used to cut off the foil below the large lip of the bottle to create an even, clean line around the bottle so that once the foil is removed, the cork and cage are exposed. Fold a napkin or towel lengthwise and place it over the cage and cork. This creates another safety measure that can help prevent the cork flying off at high speed. The pressure behind the cork is around an incredible 90 psi, three times the pressure of most car tyres. The bottle should be held at a 45-degree angle and the bottle, rather than the cork, should be twisted. In certain circumstances champagne can be opened using a sword, but this is typically done as part of a military ceremony, so you may want to put your blade away!
Now your champagne is ready to be served, you can choose between the three different types of glass to enjoy it in. The more traditional may enjoy the coupe glass, which was popularised in England in the 1830s, supposedly inspired by Marie Antoinette’s breast, and is still used in high-end restaurants and hotels today. The champagne flute is often chosen by more expert wine connoisseurs. This glass was designed to preserve the bubbles upon pouring, with the flute’s tall, narrow shape helping to maintain carbonation. The final type of glass is the tulip glass, which has a narrow top that helps to trap the aroma inside the bowl like the flute, but stands out for its inward curved rim. This glass is recommended for bringing out the fruity flavours in champagne.
Champagne at Tennant’s
Our current selection of champagne in 29th April Fine Wine and Whisky Sale offers a rich and varied selection of champagne. Whilst far from the days of the “Devil’s Wine”, today’s champagne has been built on a long and fascinating legacy, from the indominable Veuve Clicquot, to the injured soldier behind Tattinger, from the Tsars and the Queen enjoying Roederer’s Cristal and Krug, to the 1920s American moguls partying with Dom Pérignon. Throughout years, champagne has been used to make toasts by legendary historical figures, and by raising a glass of champagne you can delight in knowing that you are joining their esteemed company.