Buying French Champagne


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Christmas is almost here and even before New Year’s Eve approaches, you may already be thinking about champagne. Wondering how to choose a good French champagne?

Finding a good champagne at a reasonable price is something that every champagne fan needs to know – even if you only break out the bubbly once a year – for that very special occasion.

During 2007, 300 million bottles of champagne were sold – meaning champagne coming from the ‘Champagne region’ in France. There are hundreds of vineyards throughout the Champagne region. That makes for plenty of choices. Luckily, the folks at L’Express Magazine have taken it upon themselves to taste 400 labels from various vineyards. What they’ve discovered is that the labels destined for bigger distribution tend to be ‘dosee.’

What does ‘dosee’ mean?
Dosee means that sugar has been added, often to mask an immature wine. A champagne’s merit lies surprisingly in its acidity, rather than its sweetness. That’s the element that gives a champagne it’s fresh feel and titillates the tastebuds.
Needless to say, you can’t fool too many French tastebuds, which is why some smaller champagne vineyards are getting bigger play.

L’Express has separated their champagne choices into several categories: aperatif, champagne for the main course, desert champagne, and champagne for any old time of day.
The one that caught my eye was a Rose Brut champagne from the Denis Salomon winery – at 13.50 Euros per bottle, for a wine promised to be ‘a marvel with your dessert’, this sounds just too good to pass up. Already I’m salivating for champagne and a gateau au chocolat fondant even though I’ve renunciated both. Surely by New Year’s Eve, I will have broken this resolution.

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The trend in France, according to L’Express, is to go straight for the ‘brut’ champagnes from small vineyards (thereby avoiding the risk of added sugar). You’ll find on their list of champagnes names that may be totally unfamiliar to you – as they are to me. And there’s the fun of discovering a small vintner. Considering that half the people in France have either an uncle or a friend of a friend who has a vineyard in the champagne region, you’re bound to try any number of champagnes – if you stay in France long enough.

And, in order to recognize a good champagne, with so many labels, it will take a lot of tasting to become wise.

Buying Champagne on Home Turf

Here is a listing of four champagnes that can be found in the ‘grands surfaces’ i.e. supermarkets and have received good quality/price ratings:
Besseret de Bellefor
Mumm Cordon Rouge
Jacquart (1997)
Veuve Emile

If You Splurge

Moet & Chandon
Veuve Cliquot Grand Dame
Dom Perignon
Dom Ruinart (1990, 1998)
Cristal de Roederer (Roederer rose is even better if you can find it!)
Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle
Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises (if you can find it!)
Bollinger (1996)
Krug (1996)
Billecart-Salmon

Pink champagne or rose champagne has made a great comeback in the last few years. I’m really happy about that. It adds a festive touch. And it’s just plain fun.

Here’s some champagne tips:
You don’t want to serve champagne ICE COLD. It should be served chilled, but still at a temperature where the subtle flavors can dance over the tongue.
Some people say that the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne.
Some people say that if the cork pops out with a bang, the champagne might not be as good as champagne can be. Whether or not any of this is true, I am certain, that if you are drinking a bottle of champagne among friends, no matter what the label, each sip will taste better and better. Cheers!