‘The UK is historically one of the largest markets for champagne and sparkling wine in the world. We love bubbles.’
101 Champagnes & Other Sparkling Wines to Try Before You Die
By Davy Zyv
Published by Birlinn
Champagne is delicious. This is very important. It’s scrumptious and magnificent. We love its flavour, we love its fizziness. We love the sense of drama and celebration it brings to any occasion. It’s the perfect drink to share with friends and family over the festive season.
I’ve been hooked on wine since I was 12 and taking my first sips of rose from my mum’s glass at my grandfather’s house near Beziers. I remember thinking why, if this is made from grapes, why does it smell and taste of raspberries? That stuck with me – how do you metamorphise those flavours? It was the first time I realised I had a discerning palate. I wasn’t academic at school and left at 16 to enrol on a chef’s course. A wine expert came to talk to us and explained the role of wine in food. That was a turning point: I was so excited that I left the kitchen behind to study wine. At Villeneuve’s basement shop in Edinburgh’s Broughton Street I sold countless bottles of sparkling wine to customers wanting to celebrate life’s milestones. But it wasn’t until I started as a sommelier at the double Michelin starred Le Gavroche in London that I had the chance to taste some of the most exquisite and expensive champagnes, and a passion for life really started. The clientele was discerning and could easily spend thousands on lunch, so I had to be at the top of my game. They were always surprised to hear me speak because they were expecting a French or Italian accent, and instead heard a Scottish one. More recently I have been wine development manager for the world’s second largest wine retailer, and now Champagne and Italian wine buyer for the world’s most famous vintner. Earlier this year I was sworn into the ancient Ordre des Couteaux du Champagne as a Chevalier.
I spend a lot of the year travelling, meeting wine producers and hear great stories, particularly about champagne. The region, sitting on vital trade routes, has had a turbulent history from Napoleonic War to the First and Second World Wars . There was heavy looting of Champagne’s cellars by the Nazis and at one point there was danger that the German thirst for champagne they would drink the region dry . When writing my book, I wanted to tell some of those stories, introduce new people to its flavour, to explain why it’s so expensive, how it can complement food – but also to recommend other sparkling wines. We have never had so much choice in finding our favourite fizzer. Many champagne makers have taken their trade all around the world, finding new methods, grapes and climates to produce fine examples from Australia, California and South America. And the English sparkling wine business is booming. Many wines are now beating champagnes in blind tastings and awards.
The UK is historically one of the largest markets for champagne and sparkling wine in the world. We love bubbles. For the book I write about my 51 favourite champagnes, many are significant to champagne’s success. The other 50 are sparkling wines which I have discovered in the course of my 13 years in the wine industry, and have painstakingly tasted each and every bottle.
The vast majority of champagne is bought in the eight weeks before Christmas, and now is the time to look out for offers in the supermarkets. I have two tips for champagne season, not on when you drink fizz, but how. If you have decent champagne on Champagne Day or at Christmas, don’t serve it too cold. This hides the flavour, so you will enjoy it better if you let it sit on the table for 10 minutes before serving. Finally, every bottle of champagne is at least two years old, and some are closer to 10. Making champagne is one of the most complex, labour-intensive and time-consuming methods of making wine there is. It would be a shame to undo all that time and hard work by not serving it correctly. Please, do not drink good champagne out of flutes. The shape of these glasses actually restricts your enjoyment of the champagne, hiding all those delicious flavours which take so long to produce. Best keep to normal white wine glasses. Cheers!
Three champagnes and sparkling wines for the festive season
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve
This family-run producer is a fraction of the size of many other famous houses. What they lack in size, they deliver on quality and value. The current owners are sixth generation, and they taste every morning with their grandfather Jean Roland-Billecart, now in his 90s, but still the boss in the blending room. Harmonic fizzy luminosity, very moreish.
Aldi Exquisite Collection Cremant du Jura
Aldi buy wine with German efficiency, using their economies of scale to customers’ benefit; the value is stonking. There are some serious stars in their range, and this cremant from Jura is one of them. It’s 100% chardonnay and made in the same way as many great champagnes. But you can buy three bottles for the price of one bottle of champagne.
Champagne Comte de Senneval
Champagne at £10 a bottle? Thank you Lidl for passing on value to customers who may not have afforded champagne before now. Made for Lidl by cousin company to Lanson champagne houses, this comes from good stock. A soft, quite floral style of champers which your Christmas dinner guests will knock back with abandon
101 Champagnes & Other Sparkling Wines to Try Before You Die by Davy Zyv is published by Birlinn, priced £14.99
Another Christmas recommendation: Gin Galore by Sean Murphy, published by Black and White, priced £12.99