So I missed out on posting a blog last week, sorry about that! Over the last month or two I’ve been doing a fair bit of travel and associated partying (as followers of @LTLTwine on Instagram and Twitter may have worked out) and so last week I dedicated myself to catching up on the significant amount of sleep that I’d been missing out on. A much better outcome for everyone, trust me!
Anyways, so over this period I’ve had the pleasure of drinking quite a bit of champagne for one reason or another; and with the ‘celebration months’ approaching I thought I’d muse on the variations that one sees between ‘identical’ wines. Never is the adage ‘There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine’ been truer than for champagne.
First though, a quick lesson. The ‘standard’ champagne that we all drink most often is an ‘NV’, standing for Non-Vintage, as this is a blend of a number of different ‘base wines’, created every year by the ‘chef de cave’ to represent the house style. This is supposed to mean that NV could also stand for ‘No Variation’, as this is the desired outcome from year to year. If only it were this simple…
Every year, I go to a ‘Champagne Day’ where you can go in and taste about 50-60 champagnes and hence get a really good idea of what the differences between the wines are, as each house’s NV is like an advertisement for what all of its top wines will bring to the table. Over the last 5-6 years I’ve really noticed how some of the blends manage to change more than others. Nowhere is this more true than with the famous Bollinger house. 10 years ago, I wasn’t so hot on their yeast-driven style that I felt wasn’t really worth the money. About 3 or 4 years ago, there was a noticeable change in the blend towards a slightly leaner, more focussed wine. Whilst subtle, it made all the difference and took the wine from ‘mid-range’ in my tasting notes, to somewhere near the top of the pack. Maybe they made a conscious change, maybe they are in a particularly good patch of base wine, but whatever it is, it’s working (and for those of you who like the fancy stuff, search out the 02 Grande Annee for one of the best champagnes I’ve had the pleasure of tasting).
Furthermore champagne is a delicate soul, and has to overcome quite a journey to make it from France and into the bottom of my glass. It’s much more susceptible to getting spoiled by temperature, light, and/or general transport than many other wines that make the journey across the seas to our shores. It can then ‘age’ on the shelf depending on how it’s stored and how long it takes to be sold.
This was highlighted recently when I drank three bottles of Pol Roger NV over the course of a couple of weeks. Bottle 1 was enjoyed before a wedding (alongside a bottle of my favourite ‘big house’ NV – Louis Roederer) and was showing the typical Pol citrus and bread flavours but with quite an aggressive acid line through the palate. Bottle 2 was brought round to our house the next day (by the newly minted Bride & Groom) and was, in comparison to the first bottle, a revelation! Rich, complex, still looking like Pol, but with the volume turned up substantially. Bottle 3 kicked off a 30th birthday party at a pub and was in more balance than bottle 1, but lacking the complexity of bottle 2. All bottles were created equal, and were all still fantastic, but some were more fantastic than others. So much for ‘Not Variable’!
So what does all of this mean and what should you do about it? Drink more champagne! It’s the only way to learn, and probably the funnest lesson you’ll ever get…