Champagne is a beverage for celebrating special occasions and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are certainly special occasions for most people in the Cayman Islands. The wine professionals from Jacques Scott talked about six Champagnes in the company’s portfolio over lunch at the Grand Old House.
For most of those who enjoy fine wine and food, there’s a good chance that sometime during the month of December, they’ll drink Champagne.
Champagne not only serves as a great accompaniment to any holiday dinner or cocktail party, it makes for an always welcome gift for those who enjoy alcoholic beverages. Although giving most wines as a gift can be risky if you don’t know the recipient’s tastes well, Champagne will generally bring a smile to the face of almost any wine drinker.
Jacques Scott Wines & Spirits carries a large portfolio of Champagnes, and three of its wine professionals – Lee Royle, Sergio Serrano and Sarah Howard – talked about what they liked best about six Champagnes the company sells.
The enjoyment of Champagne doesn’t necessarily come with the first sip for those new to the beverage. Part of the reason is the unique method used to make Champagne. After the initial fermentation and bottling, more yeast and sugar are added to the bottle to create secondary fermentation, the process whereby Champagne gets its famous bubbles. Because the finished product spends more time in the presence of yeast, many Champagnes tend to have aromas of freshly baked bread or brioche, something those who haven’t drunk much of the beverage might find unpleasant.
However, because production methods vary, different Champagnes have different characteristics and not all of them display the strong yeasty aromas that bubbly lovers learn to adore. Once such Champagne is G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge (Retail: $60.99). Instead of strong aromas of baked bread or brioche, Mumm displays citrus and stone fruit aromas.
“For novices… it’s a good introduction into Champagne,” says Royle.
“It’s perfect for the Prosecco drinkers,” says Howard.
With its light and refreshing style, Mumm Cordon Rouge would pair well with smoked salmon and citrusy seafood dishes like ceviche.
“It would make a good breakfast Champagne,” Royle notes.
When red is white
Most people know that red grapes are used to make red wines. They might assume then that white grapes are used to make white wines. However, this isn’t always the case because all grape juice is white. Red wines get their color from having the juice stay in contact with the red grape skins in a process called maceration. Without that process, red grapes would produce white wines, which is exactly the case with Champagne.
Most Champagnes are a blend of two or three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the latter two of which are dark grapes. Taittinger Brut Reserve [Retail: $58.99] is just one of many examples of a blend of these grapes producing a brilliant, golden-yellow Champagne.
Taittinger is Jacques Scott’s workhorse Champagne, outselling all others. It is a versatile, well-balanced Champagne that has just the right amount of bubbles, just the right amount of brioche aromas and just the right amount of fruit flavors on the palate.
“What’s not to love?” asks Howard. “For a Champagne under $60, it shows incredible balance and it could rival a Champagne at double the price.”
Taittinger would be at home on a table for any meal from brunch through dinner.
What’s in a name?
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The only true Champagne comes from a specific region in northeastern France called, unsurprisingly, Champagne.
What differentiates Champagne from other sparkling wines, and what makes it such a sought after beverage, is terroir – the unique combination of climate, altitude and soil conditions that give the grapes grown in Champagne special characteristics. Located in northeastern France, Champagne’s cooler temperatures hinder ripening of grapes grown there. Instead of becoming overly fruity, the grapes grown in the region have higher acidity, a definitive trait of Champagne.
There are more than 100 Champagne houses in France, some widely known, some less so. One that is perhaps less so – even though it has been producing fine Champagne for more than 200 years – is Henriot, the newest addition to Jacques Scott’s portfolio of Champagnes.
Like the Mumm Cordon Rouge, the Henriot Brut Souverain [Retail: $61.99] is a lighter style of Champagne, exhibiting refreshing fruit flavors and tangy acidity.
“If Mumm is a breakfast Champagne, then this is a lunch Champagne,” says Royle.
Good enough for 007
The favorite Champagne of fictional super spy James Bond is Bollinger. Fictional or not, James Bond has good taste because when it comes to non-vintage Champagnes, Bollinger Special Cuvee [Retail: $74.99] is at the top of many critics’ lists.
The Bollinger blend is driven by Pinot Noir – it’s 60 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay and 15 percent Pinot Meunier – giving it more body and structure than many other non-vintage Champagnes. “Bollinger is a classic Champagne,” says Royle. “It’s the epitome of elegance and grace.”
The full-bodied Bollinger can pair with heavier foods, such as Grand Old House’s grilled scallops and shrimp skewer. Royle noted that Champagne actually pairs with many foods at the dinner table.
“It’s the go-to wine for pairings,” he said. “When in doubt, throw Champagne at it.”
A good year
Most Champagnes produced are non-vintage, which in practice means they contain Champagne made from multiple vintages. This allows Champagne brands to retain consistency from year to year without exhibiting the vintage variations caused by climate conditions, something common in still wines.
However, many Champagne houses also produce vintage champagnes that are made from grapes grown from a single season. In addition, vintage Champagnes lie on their lees – or spent yeast cells – for longer than regular Champagnes. The result is a more flavorful and complex Champagne, one that can improve with many years of aging.
Usually, vintage Champagnes carry price tags north of $100, but not in all cases. Louis Roederer Vintage 2005 [Retail: $67.99] is an excellent choice for someone who would like to experience vintage Champagne without its usual cost. Vintage Roederer is another Pinot Noir-driven Champagne that is made from 70 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Chardonnay. The result is an elegant and powerful Champagne that can pair with a variety of foods and is perfect at the dinner table.
Color for Christmas
As good as Champagne is on any holiday table, Christmas demands color and Rosé Champagne is perfect on Christmas Day.
Rosé Champagne gets its color from allowing the skins of the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to remain in contact with the juice for a brief time. In addition to adding color, this process imparts some red fruit aromas and flavors more associated with red wines. The result is a Champagne that pairs fantastically with the variety of foods typically found on a holiday dinner table, including fruit-based desserts.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé [Retail: $92.99] is an elegant example of a Rosé Champagne that is not only good for the holidays, but it’s good for romance.
“This is a wine that you seduce someone with,” says Howard. “I think Rosé Champagnes, especially this one, have such an amazing balance of complexity and delicateness.