Monday, March 22, 2010

How to choose a champagne

If you missed out on my recent Win A Weekend In Champagne competition, don't despair; all is not lost. There will probably be one more competition before the year is out so you'll have another chance.

All you had to do to enter the competition was to share with me the No. 1 question you wanted to ask about champagne or the No. 1 challenge you face when it comes to champagne.

There were stacks of entries and stacks of great questions but although they were all put in slightly different words the theme was the same:

"How to I know which champagne to choose when there are so many to choose from?"

Exclusive champagnes R

"I know that there are lots of different champagnes to try, but I just don't know where to look or what to ask for, so I end up sticking to the names I know or the ones I've tasted before"

I reckon that there are lots of you who feel the same way so I've put together a few tips that I hope will be help. Here goes:

There are 4 things you need to know to give you a clue about what the style and quality of a champagne will be like:

• The quality of the grapes ( there are 3 classifications of quality and these can affect the quality of the champagne: Grand Cru, Premier Cru and then the third category which is simply Cru)

• The proportion of the different grape varieties used in the blend ( more a question of taste than quality. Do you prefer a champagne with more Chardonnay, more Pinot Noir or more Pinot Meunier in it?)

• The length of ageing ( In general the longer the ageing, the ‘better’ the quality, so knowing how long a champagne has been aged is crucial)

• The degree of sweetness which in French is called Le Dosage ( again, this is a question of taste rather than quality, but very important to know so that you get exactly the level of dryness or sweetness you want)

If you know these things you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the champagne will taste like and you’ll know if it’s what you’re looking for.

If it is, then you can decide how much you want to pay to get what you want.

That may sound a bit technical, but it’s not really. Some of this information is shown on the label ( although sadly not all), but if you go to a good wine merchant he/she should know these things and should be able to tell you. If they don’t, then try another shop.

How do you know which type or style of champagne you prefer?

Well there no short cut other than to try several different champagnes and in this process you’ll no doubt get a few bottles that you like less than others. Try not to view this as a disaster, though. As long as you didn’t spend a fortune, and there’s no need to do that to find good quality, then with every champagne you taste you’ll be narrowing down the field and learning as you go along. Then the time will soon come when 9 times out of 10 you’ll be able to try an unknown brand and you’ll get a pleasant surprise rather than the other way around.

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