This month, I visited the Champagne region of France for the first time. With my WSET Diploma sparkling wine exams only a month away, there was nothing for it but to get some tasting practice! I took the Eurostar to Paris and then a scenic train journey from Gare de l'Est to Epernay. For Champagne first-timers, the city of Reims and the town of Epernay are great bases for a trip, as they're within walking distance of many Champagne houses and tasting rooms. Over three days, I toured and tasted at a range of houses and producers from large to small, Grandes Marques to Grower and lots in between: Taittinger, Billecart-Salmon, Jacques Selosse, De Venoge, Collard-Picard, Michel Fagot and Devavry. I found the hospitality so friendly and relaxed everywhere we visited, and I can't wait to return. My trip enabled me to rediscover Champagne not as a brand but, first and foremost, as an exceptional wine: an intellectual wine, a gastronomic wine, a holy nectar capable of translating terroir and vintage variation, that can become even more captivating after 10 or 20+ years of ageing.
CHAMPAGNES: SAVE, SPEND & SPLURGE
This month is all about Champagne. I discovered my "Save" choice during Marks & Spencer's Spring Wine Tasting - I thought this Champagne punched well above its £17.00 price point. I visited both of the producers for the "Spend" and "Splurge" Champagnes during my recent trip to the region.
Abel Charlot Brut NV Champagne | Marks & Spencer case of 6 £102 (£17 per bottle) A refreshing Champagne with fine bubbles, citrus notes well-balanced with an appetising amount of residual sugar, some pastry/nutty complexity, and at only £17 per bottle, I believe this must be one of the best sub-£20 supermarket Champagnes out there. Perfect for hosting a crowd without breaking the bank and without compromising on taste. A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois NV | Champagne Direct £65 What can I say... I love this wine! Equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are vinified in oak and then aged on its lees or 6-7 years (adding delicious brioche and baking notes). A very complex wine in the glass with notes of white peach, buttered croissants and lemon mousse! Will stand up to complex food such as a mushroom/truffle risotto and lobster ravioli, and would be a great pairing with chicken and cooked fish/shellfish.
Jacques Selosse Brut Initial NV | Harvey Nichols £175 This Champagne is hard to get hold of (limited production) and I could only find it online with Harvey Nichols at the moment (though I seen it elsewhere for around £125) - let's hope more is released soon! This family-run domaine is headed by Anselme Selosse, a pioneer and leading Grower Champagne producer. His "Initial" is made from 100% Chardonnay vinified in small Burgundian oak barrels. Rich, honeyed, nutty, oxidative, with candied lemon peel and some fresh citrus notes. It's an incredibly complex, layered and enchanting Champagne! Sip and savour by itself or pair with equally complex dishes - I had the Initial with scallops followed by a caramelised pork dish, which were both sublime pairings.
GRILLED SPARKLING WINE-SOAKED NECTARINES
This month, I've got a quick and easy recipe for grilled sparkling wine-soaked nectarines. This recipe only requires half of a mini bottle of sparkling wine, so there is definitely enough left for a glass for the chef!
For 2-4 people
20cl sparkling wine - I recommend Prosecco
2 tbsp of honey
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
sprig of mint
Step 1: slice the nectarines in half and remove the stones. Keep some of the nectarines in half and slice some into quarters. Step 2: place the nectarines in an ovenproof dish and pour half of the sparkling wine over the nectarines, then drizzle the 2 tablespoons of honey and sprinkle the teaspoon of cinnamon over the nectarines. Refrigerate the nectarines for at least 30 minutes. Step 3: while the nectarines are marinating, treat yourself to a small glass of the remaining sparkling wine! Step 4: take the nectarines out of the fridge and pre-heat the grill to 220°C. Place the nectarines under the grill for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Step 5: To serve, place the grilled nectarines on the plate and serve with a scoop of ice cream (here I have peanut butter flavour) and top with a sprig of mint.
WINE BAR - REIMS
Le Wine Bar, Reims, 16 Place of Forum 51100 Reims A great wine bar recommendation from a friend of mine situated right in the heart of Reims city, Le Wine Bar has a trendy and relaxed atmosphere but boasts a serious wine list with over 1,200 bottles. It specialises in Champagne, but there's a broad range of red, white and sweet wine from elsewhere in France and further afield. Tables spill out of the bar onto the local square, which is a particularly pleasant sun spot for late afternoon/early evening sipping. Small plates are served to accompany the superb wine offering. One not to be missed if you are visiting Reims!
QUICK GUIDE: CHAMPAGNE & FOOD
Love Champagne? Don’t know what to pair it with? If you don’t know where to start with Champagne food pairings, then here are some of my top tips to get you going: High Acid with High Acid - wines with high acid (like Champagne) pair really well with high acid foods - for example, fresh seafood or fish dishes and salads that are dressed with lots of lemon or a vinaigrette. High Acid with Fats - high acid wines cut through fats providing a great balance to fatty dishes. You can pair Champagne with buttery or creamy dishes, and... how about with fried chicken!? I’ve done it - and trust me - it’s amazing. Residual Sugar with Salt - Champagnes with more residual sugar (in the 9g/litre + zone) are also easy to pair with a variety of dishes. I love the combination of sweet and salty - so why not try pairing a slightly sweeter Champagne with tangy, salty cheeses or even with cured meats? High Umami with Acid - high umami dishes (which includes cheese, mushrooms, smoked salmon and asparagus) pair excellently with Champagne. The acid in the Champagne cuts through the broadness of umami-rich foods, which is really satisfying on the palate. Some of my favourite champagne pairings including: roast chicken, eggs, cheese, truffle, seafood salads, creamy pasta dishes and most canapés you can think of!