Friday, April 30, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Champagne brands – Look out the old guard

Debate a Bubble - Champagne brands – Look out the old guard

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Champagne brands – Look out the old guard

Posted: 29 Apr 2010 02:06 PM PDT

Tastings Last Monday there was a small tasting event here in Champagne and it was the chance to meet and talk to some of the up-an-coming champagne makers who, in terms of quality at least, can be the equal of all but a very small handful of the better-known international brands.

 It was glorious day and by the time I arrived at the Hotel Castel Jeanson in the village of Aÿ there were cars parked on both sides of the road, but I saw none from England – these champagne makers are still more or less unknown in the biggest export market in the world.

TerresetvinsdeChampagne There were 17 makers in total, many of them producing organic or bio dynamic champagne.

Here's the full list. If you haven't heard of them yet, they you will soon and you should try them:

Pascal AGRAPART Pascal Agrapart

Françoise BEDEL

Francis BOULARD & Daughter
Vincent COUCHE

Pouillon Tasting at Terres et Vins de Champagne One of the most interesting things about this particular tasting was that each maker presented a selection of base wines or vins clairs as they are called. These are the still wines made from the previous harvest and are the basic building blocks that the maker will blend together to them turn into champagne.

Every champagne maker uses vins clairs of course, but having the chance to taste so many and to chat to the makers about the different characteristics of each one, is not an experience you'll ever get in one of the big houses. It gives a great chance to understand how complex a wine champagne can be.

All vins clairs reveal the different nuances of the different grapes and different plots of land whence they come, but these smaller makers seemed to have a greater spirit of adventure and inquiry than most and are willing to experiment with all sorts of possible variations.

For example Vincent Couche has spent a long time studying the nuances of geology in his part of the Aube region and presented two base wines, both made from Pinot Noir, but one from grapes grown in soil generally planted with Pinot Noir - no surprises there then, but the other vin clair was  from soil traditionally assumed to be best for  Chardonnay.

Another trend that is gaining momentum these days and which was very much in evidence last week was the preference to use only very low dosage, that is very low amounts of added sugar. The rationale in this is that less sugar means that the natural taste of the grape and influence of the different soils can come shining through.

Even though I know or had heard of most of these makers I managed only to visit 5 of the 17 stands, so plenty more to visit in the next few weeks and months and I'll write about them in more detail individually.

Pascal Agrapart It was a superb little event and only goes to reinforce my feeling that the greatest delights in Champagne can be found just as easily in the out of the way places as on the well beaten tourist track.

Harley Davidsons And Champagne

Posted: 29 Apr 2010 01:34 PM PDT

Harley Davidson Some people might say that riding Harley Davidsons and champagne don't mix but try telling that to the 2 dozen or so Harley riders who descended on Verzy last weekend.

I had just popped out for a baguette at the boulangerie and wow! Harley Davidsons Parked all over the little car park in front of the Mairie.

All spotlessly clean and come to think of it I don't think I've ever seen a dirty Harley Davidson - must be self-cleaning

No riders around mind you, but a moment listening told me where they were. All enjoying lunch , and a few glasses of champagne by the sound of it, in the local restaurant, Au Chant des Galipes.

Didn't hear them arrive and didn't hear them go either, just a few pictures to prove that they were there at all.

  Yet More Harveys

More Harleys A Huddle of Harveys Le Chant Des Galipes

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Rosé Champagne – Why It’s Always That Little Bit More Expensive

Debate a Bubble - Rosé Champagne – Why It’s Always That Little Bit More Expensive

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Rosé Champagne – Why It’s Always That Little Bit More Expensive

Posted: 28 Apr 2010 08:59 AM PDT

Glass fill level cropped Lots of people, and perhaps you're one of them, love rosé champagne but sometimes ask themselves why it's always that little bit more expensive than normal, white champagne. Some people even suspect it's all a marketing ploy just to get you to pay more.

Well, in fact there is a good reason why rosé costs that little bit extra and here's why...

Apart from the colour and the taste there's something else that's different about rosé champagne and that's the way it's made.

In fact there are two ways to make rosé champagne but by far the most common is simply to take still red wine and add a small proportion, somewhere around 10%,  to still white wine to make a pink blend from the two. After that the blend goes through the normal champagne making process which creates the bubbles and turns the still wine into champagne.

Champagne is the only wine making region in France where they are allowed to make rosé this way.

It sounds so simple and cheap doesn't it, but as with many things, it's easier said than done.

For one thing the red wine must be made in Champagne from grapes grown in Champagne. CC Rosé

On the surface of it you wouldn't think that finding red wine in Champagne would be a problem. 

There's been a wine making heritage in Champagne going back centuries. Even before Champagne became famous for its sparkling wine, still red and white wines from Champagne villages such as Bouzy, Dizy and Aÿ, were despatched by road and river to the royal courts near Paris and enjoyed by the French aristocracy. In fact, back in the 1500s still wine from Champagne was more popular than Burgundy.

These wines go by the appellation 'Coteaux Champenois' to distinguish them from champagne and they're still made today, if you can find them... and that leads us on to the next point

In theory there should be no problem finding red wine in champagne, but despite there being millions and millions of black grapes grown in Champagne every year, very few of them are made into red wine

The reasons for this are simple:

•    It takes time, effort and patience to make red wine, so the final product is costly

•    Champagne vineyards map With the Champagne region being so far north, red wine made here is never really top quality,  nothing that's ever going to rival the great red wine made elsewhere in France

•    The high price coupled with the average quality means that it's not easy to sell red Coteaux Champenois wine, so why make it in the first place?

•    Last and certainly not least, it's more profitable, to press the grapes to make regular white champagne which sells at higher prices that the wine makers can get for still wine.

What this means for lovers of rosé champagne is that it's always going to be more expensive than the equivalent white champagne because of the cost of the red wine.

 If rosé champagne were any cheaper, no one would bother making red wine – the crucial ingredient -  in the first place.

So next time  you're enjoying a lovely glass of rosé just relax in the knowledge that you aren't being ripped off, it genuinely does cost more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Champagne Brands - Which Is The Most Glamorous Of Them All?

Debate a Bubble - Champagne Brands - Which Is The Most Glamorous Of Them All?

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Champagne Brands - Which Is The Most Glamorous Of Them All?

Posted: 26 Apr 2010 08:11 AM PDT

Ask 100 champagne drinkers this question and you're bound to get as many different answers, but you can bet that a handful of familiar names will crop up more than the others: Dom Pérignon, Cristal, Krug, La Grande Dame are likely to be mentioned a lot. DP Bottle

But how would it be if none of these were the most glamourous champagne brand and how on earth do you choose one anyway?

In one sense it's impossible because it's a very personal thing but if there were a way of choosing just one brand, what would be the  deciding factor that no one could argue about?

Well it couldn't be the price because that  varies from one bar and wineshop to another and it couldn't be the taste because we all have different likes and dislikes.  No, what we're looking for is something  indisputable that no one can  argue about.

One way of deciding might be to see which the oldest champagne house is. After all we usually associate great age and a rich history with things that are the best of the best, so perhaps we should look into this? Besides, it will give you a new insight into the whole business of champagne brands.

In most countries and most industries it's rare to find companies that were  founded over 200 years ago and are still going strong, but in Champagne there's a positive avalanche of them – well, alright, a handful then, but that's still impressive.

Here are a few of them - the names may not all be familiar to you...

Borne Ruinart The oldest champagne house of all is Ruinart - La Plus Ancienne Maison de Champagne – it was created back in 1729.

 Ruinart also has some of the most spectacular cellars too. They date back to Roman times and in fact Ruinart's cellars are the only ones that are classifed as a national treasure. Right now the cellars are closed for restoration, but when you next find yourself in Reims a visit to Ruinart is a must

Gosset  is also a very venerable, old company dating back to 1584. Wait a minute.... doesn't that make it older than Ruinart?

Well yes, but the thing is that Gosset started out as a wine merchant and even though we know they sold still wine, there are no written records to  prove that Gosset sold champagne all that time ago.

So Gosset is always very careful to describe itself as the Oldest Wine House in the Champagne Region ' La plus Ancienne Maison de Vins de la Champagne'

Incidentally when speaking of champagne in French, Le champagne means the wine made in that region; La Champagne means the region itself.

The  biggest champagne house of them all is Moët & Chandon.

La Grande Maison, as it is sometimes called, was founded in 1743 by Claude Moët (pronouncd with the T sounded, like MO ETTE).

There are no records to show that Monsieur Moët was a champagne maker before 1743 but by that time he was already in his forties so who knows?  He may well have started his company a few years earlier.

Another fine house with its origins going back to the 18th century is Louis Roederer founded in 1776 a date which every American will know by heart

 It's Roederer that makes Cristal which was originally  made for Tsar Alexander II of Russia back in 1876 , mind you, back then it was a sweet champage, not much like the Cristal produced today.

Relative new-comers by champagne standards, but still names with a proud  ancestry are

Lanson                Founded in        1760
Veuve Clicqout Ponsardin              1772
Piper Heidsieck                            1785
Perrier Jouët                                1811
Laurent Perrier                            1812
Billecart Salmon                            1818

In some special way it adds an extra touch of magic to know that there's more than a little bit of history in every sip of champagne you enjoy.

But if age is the main source of prestige what about some of the smaller champagne brands?

Henri giraud

Many of the the less well-known families that still make outstanding champagne today have been  around in the Champagne region for centuries too.

Champagne Henri Giraud's family can trace its roots back to 1625 when François Hémart settled in the village of Aÿ. The Girauds later married into the Hémart family to form today's champagne house. 

Another champagne brand you may not have heard of is Chanoine. Today it is part of a very large group of champagne producers, but it was founded in 1730 which makes it the second oldest of the lot.

Meanwhile another, Louis de Sacy, boasts that its family was established as vine growers in the village of Verzy as long ago as 1633

Louis de Sacy

There's no getting away from the fact that when it comes to pedigree some of the smaller houses have an equally proud history as the giant champagne brands and are well worth getting to know when you have the opportunity

It just goes to show that there are other things worth taking into account when it comes to champagne apart from just the price and the advertising.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Champagne brands - How come Cristal and Dom Pérignon are so expensive?

Debate a Bubble - Champagne brands - How come Cristal and Dom Pérignon are so expensive?

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Champagne brands - How come Cristal and Dom Pérignon are so expensive?

Posted: 22 Apr 2010 09:22 AM PDT

In Salon at Krug 19th Feb 2010 You know that it can cost a lot of money to treat yourself to a bottle of the world's most prestigious brands of champagne and wonderful wines though they are, perhaps you still can't help a little question cropping up in the back} of your mind:  "Why is it that Cristal, Dom Pérignon, Krug and a few others, are so pricey and are they really worth it?"

Well, in one sense there's no real answer to this question, but when you  understand a little about the  workings of the champagne industry then you may be able to forget about the price, let go and and just enjoy the experience, or the champagne in this case.

The leading brands of champagne are certainly well-established amongst the world's leading luxury brands and as you all know, or at least suspect, when you're talking about luxury brands the  normal rules about price and value for money go out of the  window. If you want to enjoy these brands then it's almost vulgar to wonder about the price.

If you're thinking about buying a Ferrari you don't ask how many miles it does to the gallon – except on environmental grounds. No, if you're worried about how to pay for the fuel, you can't afford the car.

So it's pointless to ask if a Bentley or a bottle of Cristal represents good value for money; it's all relative anyway.

Nor is there any sense in trying to figure out what each individual element in Dom Pérignon costs : $X for the grapes plus $Y for the production, add on $Z for the distribution and Hey Presto you get to what you have to fork out in the shop or restaurant.DP

It just doesn't work like that.

For a start rule No. 1 for luxury goods companies is never to justify the price with logic: a )  that would ruin half of the  mystique and appeal around the brand b) it can't be done because a  large part of the price you pay  is intangible and c) when you buy a luxury product you're buying a dream, an emotion as much as the product  itself, and that emotion is beyond value.

That's a pretty frustrating answer though, so let's look at another aspect of the cost of prestige champagne brands that may not make the price tag any more affordable but which will shed a little light on the perplexing issue of why the most expensive champagnes cost what they do.

To give you some background here are a few facts about the champagne industry:

For a sparkling wine to be called champagne it must be made in a region of France called Champagne and in fact that region is not that large: it covers roughly 35,000 hectares or 86,000 acres.

As well as being produced in a relatively small area sparkling wine made in Champagne is also fenced about by a whole raft of rules and regulations and that means that the amount of bottles produced per year is also limited - it's around 300 million bottles per year, actually.

That may sound a lot but don't forget that champagne is drunk all over the world and the demand is very high too.

The fact that champagne is so popular all over the planet is not something that happened by accident. It came about because of the huge amounts of cash that the major champagne brands have invested, and still do, in marketing and promoting to build and sustain the image of their brand and of champagne in general.

Odd though it may sound, although it may be a little bit easier to accept after reading about all that marketing spend, selling what you might call 'standard' champagne – that's the usual non-vintage stuff – is not hugely profitable precisely because of what it costs to market the brands.

No, I don't expect you to  shed a tear for the likes of Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Roederer and the rest – they're not paupers after all – but most of them haven't made a fortune from focussing on the regular, non-vintage champagnes in their range.

It's on the super expensive prestige cuvées that they make their profit.

Look at it this way your main selling brand is not that profitable; there's loads of competition from other brands so you can't up your prices much or the customers will stop buying, so what do you do?Cristal1

Well, you create another, more expensive champagne which is aimed at wealthier consumers and you charge a lot of money for it. You may not sell very much of it, but what you do sell is very lucrative and even better than that, you don't have to spend the same amounts of money on  marketing the new baby because that job's already been  taken care of by the existing champagne that carries the same company name.

Bingo, it's jackpot time!

O.K. perhaps that's an over-simplification, but it's definitely the attractive margins on those prestige cuvées that keep champagne houses going because a much greater share of the proceeds from the top dollar champagne brands goes straight into the bank.

So  the bottom line on why Cristal, Dom Pérignon and the others are as pricey as they are is because they have to be expensive, at least when you look at things from the commercial point of view of the champagne maker. So they charge whatever the customer is prepared to pay.

This may not have been the answer you were hoping for but there's no point in getting too hung up on the  cost of prestige champagnes; they are what they are and the best thing is not to labour too much on the price and instead just revel in the experience.