Champagne's sparkle cuts across the creamy, eggy, pasty or pulpy consistency of a large and varied range of foods. It cleanses the palate after a mouthful of anything fatty, and yet is also the perfect foil for bland flavours. It is one of the few wines that can be served successfully throughout a meal. And, of course, it is the most seductive of after-dinner wines!
The northernmost wine region in France, Champagne is a specific appellation reserved for the production of one or more of three grape varieties - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - grown within a legally-defined area 90 miles northeast of Paris, with Epernay at its centre and Reims to the north. Being so far north, it is the closest wine region to the UK - Epernay is only two and a half hours by car from Calais. Our two champagne vineyards, Maison Lenique and Champagne Fresne Ducret, are both family-run domaines not far from Epernay.
Each year in March we are invited to Maison Lenique to help select the base wines for our unique champagne that will, three years later, be available to Partners. Why three years? Well, once the base wines have been selected and blended, possibly with the inclusion of some vin de réserve - older wine from previous vintages - the champagne is made by initiating a second fermentation inside the bottle in which you buy it. This is unique to the méthode champenoise system of making sparkling wine. The blended wine is then bottled with a mixture of sugar and yeast and sealed with a crown cap.
After spending a minimum of 15 months maturing on its lees in the bottle, the champagne is disgorged (the dead yeast cells are removed), the dosage is added (a wine and sugar syrup mix to top up the bottle and to give it the required 'sweetness'), the cork inserted and the wire muzzle put on to hold the cork in place. It will then be allowed to settle in the cellars until the beginning of the following year, when it will be labelled, ready for collection by Partners. The length of time champagne spends on its lees is considered to be one of the major factors in determining the complexity of flavour of the finished wine and both our champagne vineyards leave their non-vintage wines on the lees for more than the minimum period.