There is a rather good Eddie Izzard sketch about the Champenois. In it they drink Champagne all day, making a celebration of every moment: crossing the road, the telephone ringing, that sort of thing. But for the real deal: a birth of a child, marriage, and similar they crack open a few Stellas.
I drank rather a lot of Pol Roger on Friday night. The skill of the servers was such that I have no idea how much but I’d say that a bottle and a half would be a conservative estimate. It was quite excellent and I felt absolutely fine (indeed invincible) until I made the Champagne Mistake, which is having something else. In this case it was a rather good New Zealand Pinot, a couple of glasses of which left me retiring hurt at a relatively early hour.
Champagne is the most branded and, I think, the most misunderstood of wines. Ask someone what their favourite Champagne is and, whilst many will have an answer, it will be hard to qualify in any other way other than a simple: I like it. I’ll expand: very few people have the opportunity to comparatively taste Champagne. It’s expensive. A comparative tasting of half a dozen “grande marque” Champagnes will set you back £150 or so at least. As a result, I think, people tend to remember the brand that they like, that they drank at so and so’s party, and stick with it. And the brand thing. Veuve Clicquot, Moet, whatever: all of them sell because of branding and marketing. Because of the perception of what is good as opposed to the intrinsic goodness within. Some people think that Moet is classy, others think it crass. Ditto Clicquot, Mumm, the lot.
The choice of Champagne last Friday was a reflection on the good taste of my host (or, rather, his wife). Ask a connoisseur, or anyone on the wine trade, what the best non vintage big brand Champagne is and most will say Pol Roger or Bollinger. Some will say this in the same sentence and suggest that Pol is the lighter of the two: if you like something more chunky, or if this is to accompany a meal, then Bollinger might be the one; if this is to be served on its own then Pol is the one.
Beyond the brands there is a wealth of what you might call “growers’ Champagnes”: wines made by the people that own the vineyards, and made in small quantities (the larger houses generally buy the grapes for their wines rather than actually own the vineyards). These are generally more vinous in nature, and represent an opportunity (for those with deep pockets) for a voyage of Champenois discovery. A good one of these can be a little like what you might imagine sparkling Meursault to taste like (and I do intend to get myself a Sodastream in the near future to confirm this).
Back to the brands. I hate brands. James Bond drinks Dom Perignon and vintage Bollinger, and knows his vintages. These days, if the right contract came up, then Daniel Craig would be drinking Mumm or Veuve Clicquot in the same way that he now wears an Omega (when any fule kno that he should be sporting a Rolex) and Roger, bless him, sported a Seiko.
What is my point here? I’m not quite sure. It’s got something to do with drinking, or tasting, a lot of Champagne and making your own mind up rather than surrendering to the marketeers. Who, as far as Champagne is concerned, seem to have it nicely sewn up.