“The pop of a cork and the bright sparkle of bubbles mean celebration and glamour and, more often than not, the distinct possibility of romance. It is the wine of weddings and New Year’s kisses.”
Whether it’s New Year’s Eve and you want to go out with a bang — fireworks and corks and get your head out of the gutter — or someone’s graduating and a nice bottle of something sparkly would go down well, champagne is always the answer. Synonymous with celebration, when you’re hosting or gifting or simply feeling frivolous, champagne elevates everyday rituals to event status; makes an occasion of afternoon tea. Parties don’t begin until someone rocks up with a bottle of bubbly. Buttery, biscuity, toasted almonds and cream — champagne comes in many forms, each with its own unique flavour profile and personality; all with the power to send your social status sky-rocketing because, of course, popular champagne makes popular people and, if we’re really honest, we’re not mad about that.
“I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty.”
– Lily Bollinger, House of Bollinger Champagne.
Along with fast cars and well-cut suits, Bollinger tends to be associated with suave and unapproachable men at bars, which perhaps explains why it’s James Bond’s personal preference. Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée bursts on the palate with flavours of roasted apples and warm spices, October aromas of peach compote fizzle out, giving way to a dark and mellow walnut finish. This is mystery and decadence in liquid form. In fact, if Bollinger were a person, it would be Mr. Bond himself.
“93/100. This is firm and tightly knit, with a backbone of steely acidity, showing a fine, creamy texture that imparts an overall sense of finesse” Alison Napjus, wine spectator, November 2013 Bollinger Special Cuvée.
If it’s an image of allure and sex appeal you hope to cultivate, show up to parties or dinners with a bottle of Bolli and they’ll call you ‘the life and soul.’
The pinnacle of affordable luxury, non-vintage but exceptionally sophisticated, you can expect to find Veuve Clicquot’s inimitable green and yellow label in every wine cellar or apartment fridge belonging to those with extravagant taste and a refined sense of worldliness. Think rich divorcee at an outdoor table of an exclusive member’s club in London or Paris, smoking in dark sunglasses with a tall flute of something gold in hand. A delightful concoction of mixed Pinot and white Chardonnay, Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne is full-bodied, outrageously opulent, yet cool and understated, with a crisp tartness that tickles the tongue, tempered with warm caramel.
Interestingly, Veuve translates as ‘widow,’ reflecting the sad and sparkly story behind the champagne house. Widowed at 27, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin took over her late husband’s business, becoming the first woman to run a champagne house. Before the roaring success of Madame Clicquot’s empire, the concept of vintage champagne was mythological; she brought to life and popularised the idea of old wines, creating a lasting legacy for the brand in the process that’s still relevant today: women can do anything with a little determination, and a lot of champagne.
In 1445, King Charles VII of France bestowed nobility on the Moët brothers, whose later descendants set up a wine shop. Napoleon was known to pop Moët & Chandon corks in celebration of naval victories, and it was adored by the late Queen Lizzie II. In fact, the Royal family thinks so highly of the house that it was the champagne of choice at Charles’ and Diana’s wedding. We hear ‘Moët & Chandon’ champagne and see stars — after a few glasses, quite literally.
A champagne that’s defined by its ‘seductive’ blonde notes of golden brioche and freshly cracked nuts, the glittering of green apples, Moët & Chandon is a favourite at parties; elegant yet fun, a serious champagne that doesn’t take itself too seriously. White flowers bloom bright on the tongue, coloured by sharp gooseberries and a sumptuously heady sense that, tonight, anything is possible.
It’s said that while Adolf Hitler did not defeat Churchill, champagne nearly did. Allegedly, in the 1930’s, he owed his wine merchant the equivalent of today’s $75,000. Britain’s war hero started his day with whisky (hard times call for hard liquor) and swiftly drowned himself in champagne henceforth. Eleanor Roosevelt was famously astounded “that anyone could smoke so much and drink so much and keep perfectly well.” Of all the bubbles, Pol Roger was Churchill’s favourite champagne (most notably, White Foil), for its elegant pear bite and distinguished complexity of mangos and exotic flowers. The tasting journey is fragrant and surreal. Beginning with light filtering through honeysuckle, the tongue then travels to a land of rich brioche and golden fruits caramelised in brown sugar — think a spoonful of apricot jam in a white jasmine grove — before arriving at a sultry destination of beeswax, cardamom, and candied orange peel.
Before a wild boar hunt in France, January 1927. - Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Playful summers. Laughter in the garden. Light. Joy. Ease. Savoir-faire. A champagne that artists describe as ‘fresh as the morning dew,’ the Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs is a recommended tipple to welcome the Spring, toast new beginnings, raise a glass to the return of the light. A champagne for stolen kisses behind the pool house. Sun-bleached fruits, French honey and sharp hedgerow greenery tingle the tongue; dry, with velvet notes of lemon meringue. If this champagne were a song, it would be Moi Je Joue, by Brigitte Bardot.
Rarely are non-vintage champagnes superior to their vintage counterparts, but in the case of the ambitious, irreverent Louis Roederer, we have an exception. The CEO of the company talks of the ‘desire for freedom’ as being the driving force behind the brand, the idea of keeping up with the times, embodying the spirit of revolution, and this sentiment sparkles in the oaky tang of the liquid gold, a pale gold — morning-light-in-early-October-gold, when the leaves begin to brown but the lingering warmth of summer is still held like a promise in the land that sun will return again. If the flavour profile were to be encapsulated by a painting, you’d see a glamorous person, smoking expensive cigars in a courtyard garden, surrounded by acacia flowers, sun-ripened white peach, enjoying baked apple pie and a small ceramic dish of honey-toasted nuts. You’d see a person content with life today, looking forward to the mystery of it all; what glimmers in the hidden depths of their tomorrow.
The truth is, all champagne is fabulously frivolous, decadent and delicious, so it’s difficult to go wrong — in fact, impossible. It seems the most iconic champagnes are those hallowed by cultural entities from the past, figures who’ll go down in history as gutsy, gregarious and glamorous, from Queen Elizabeth II and Napoleon, to Winston Churchill.
Happy cork-popping, and wherever you are, may it be a celebration.