My approach to buying champagne.A work in progress.

As a private buyer one can buy that what suits my own taste, one does not have to be objective in any way. Selling wine and champagne is completely different, ones own taste is completely irrevelant, it is more a case of understanding the character of a wine or a champagne and listening to what the consumer wants and trying to find a match. This might sound simple, with wine it is challenging, with Champagne it is impossible. 

I have long thought about trying to break down champagne into categories such as regions, philosophies, aromas, types, dosage  in a general sense. However considering how large the region is and how complex and contradictory the subject matter is, any atempt to generalise is foolhardy at best. 

For this reason I have decided to elaborate my own individual approach. For me there are basically three categories of champagne. Champagnes which I like to drink on their own without any accompaniaments. Champagnes for immediate drinking in combination with food and champagne for long term ageing.

There are a number of factors which I find especially important. 

1 Dosage:

Dosage in my mind is the key to champagne, it is what elevates it from wine. The reaction of  the sugar with the amino acids created by the autolyse (the Maillard effect) which gives champagne those unique aromas is the singularly most important process in the making of champagne and defines how long a champagne can age, how fruity/floral/complex. Dosages in the past were extremely high, this was a reflection of the taste at the time but also the climate. In the past the region struggled often to achieve ripeness and chaptalisation and dosage were the only methods to compensate the lack of ripeness. Now with a warmer climate the need for high dosage is no longer necessary. The grapes are being harvested riper and now the problem is capturing the acidity rather the phenolic ripeness. 

Saying this there are extremely good champagnes on the market without dosage, here ripeness at the harvest compensates the need for dosage. The question however is, will these be champagnes capable of long ageing, difficult to say. For this reason my preference is to drink no or low dosage champagnes with food, they are not my priority when looking for champagne to age. Exception are the champagnes of Benoit Lahaye, Franck Pascal and Benoit Marguet.

2 Region 

The key to understanding champagne is to understand the geography of the region. I think you can compare the Champagne region to Germany's Riesling regions. A riesling from the Rheingau tastes different to a Riesling from the Mosel or Rheinhessen. Here we can also break this down further. Pinot Noir is predominant in the Montagne de Reims, the Pinot Noir from Bouzy or Ambonnay is completely different to the Pinot Noirs of Verzy or of Petit Montagne just as Morstein is different to Ölberg. If I want a steely, fresh type of champagne I intend to look to the north, if I want something richer to pair with a richer type of food I go to the Val de Marne. Similiarly with chardonnay from the Côtes de Blancs, the richer the food the more I tend towards Cramant or Mesnil, where more acidity is required I go to Chouilly or Avize. Obviously getting to grips with the regions idiosyncracies is a matter that takes time but also involves being willing to experiment. 

3 Vintage: The Champagne region is massive and it is extremely difficult to generalise over vintages. 2012 was great for Pinot Noir but not so good for Chardonnay. Vinous the self proclaimed "The world's leading wine publication." dishes out points for complete vintages, warm vintages like 2012 and 2015 are favoured over difficult vintages like 2011, 2013 and 2014. This is oversimplifying an extremely complex subject. Antonio Galloni constantly say producer over vintage yet the point mechanisms he uses definitely puts vintage before producer. With vintage I ask myself do I want a fresher style of champagne or a more ful bodied style. I love acidity and when alone will always go for a colder vintage, where as I know most people like a richer style of champagne so when in company I  would go for a warmer vintage.

4 Producer 

Each producer has a certian type of style. Young producers are often in the process of finding their identity; more experienced producers at the top of their game and their wine making signature is clear. There are many attempts to categorise modern versus traditional. Barrique versus no barrique. The key is too understand ones own taste, if one likes say a richer style of wine then producers who use barrique/maloalctic/from the south or wines from southern exposures are going to be especially interesting

 As a private buyer one can buy that what suits my own taste, one does not have to be objective in any way. Selling wine and champagne is completely different, ones own taste is completely irrevelant, it is more a case of understanding the character of a wine or a champagne and listening to what the consumer wants and trying to find a match. This might sound simple, with wine it is challenging, with Champagne it is impossible. 

I have long thought about trying to break down champagne into categories such as regions, philosophies, aromas, types, dosage  in a general sense. However considering how large the region is and how complex and contradictory the subject matter is, any atempt to generalise is foolhardy at best. 

For this reason I have decided to elaborate my own individual approach. For me there are basically three categories of champagne. Champagnes which I like to drink on their own without any accompaniaments. Champagnes for immediate drinking in combination with food and champagne for long term ageing.

There are a number of factors which I find especially important. 

1 Dosage:

Dosage in my mind is the key to champagne, it is what elevates it from wine. The reaction of  the sugar with the amino acids created by the autolyse (the Maillard effect) which gives champagne those unique aromas is the singularly most important process in the making of champagne and defines how long a champagne can age, how fruity/floral/complex. Dosages in the past were extremely high, this was a reflection of the taste at the time but also the climate. In the past the region struggled often to achieve ripeness and chaptalisation and dosage were the only methods to compensate the lack of ripeness. Now with a warmer climate the need for high dosage is no longer necessary. The grapes are being harvested riper and now the problem is capturing the acidity rather the phenolic ripeness. 

Saying this there are extremely good champagnes on the market without dosage, here ripeness at the harvest compensates the need for dosage. The question however is, will these be champagnes capable of long ageing, difficult to say. For this reason my preference is to drink no or low dosage champagnes with food, they are not my priority when looking for champagne to age. Exception are the champagnes of Benoit Lahaye, Franck Pascal and Benoit Marguet.

2 Region 

The key to understanding champagne is to understand the geography of the region. I think you can compare the Champagne region to Germany's Riesling regions. A riesling from the Rheingau tastes different to a Riesling from the Mosel or Rheinhessen. Here we can also break this down further. Pinot Noir is predominant in the Montagne de Reims, the Pinot Noir from Bouzy or Ambonnay is completely different to the Pinot Noirs of Verzy or of Petit Montagne just as Morstein is different to Ölberg. If I want a steely, fresh type of champagne I intend to look to the north, if I want something richer to pair with a richer type of food I go to the Val de Marne. Similiarly with chardonnay from the Côtes de Blancs, the richer the food the more I tend towards Cramant or Mesnil, where more acidity is required I go to Chouilly or Avize. Obviously getting to grips with the regions idiosyncracies is a matter that takes time but also involves being willing to experiment and taste. 

3 Vintage: The Champagne region is massive and it is extremely difficult to generalise over vintages. 2012 was great for Pinot Noir but not so good for Chardonnay. Vinous the self proclaimed "The world's leading wine publication." dishes out points for complete vintages, warm vintages like 2012 and 2015 are favoured over difficult vintages like 2011, 2013 and 2014. This is oversimplifying an extremely complex subject. Antonio Galloni constantly say producer over vintage yet the point mechanisms he uses definitely puts vintage before producer. With vintage I ask myself do I want a fresher style of champagne or a more full bodied style. I love acidity and when alone will always go for a colder vintage, where as I know most people like a richer style of champagne so when in company I  would go for a warmer vintage.

4 Producer 

Each producer has a certian type of style. Young producers are often in the process of finding their identity; more experienced producers at the top of their game and their wine making signature is clear. There are many attempts to categorise modern versus traditional. Barrique versus no barrique. The key is too understand ones own taste, if one likes say a richer style of wine then producers who use barrique/maloalctic/from the south or wines from southern exposures are going to be especially interesting

Where to start.

A lot of wine drinkers see highly praised producers like Cedric Bouchard, Egly-Ouret, Selosse or Ulysse Collin to name some and start drinking at this level if there pecuniary situation allows it. I think in starting off like this, the question is, where do you go from there? If you were starting to study english literature, would you start off with Joyce's Finnegan's wake. I don't think so.

Firstly good champagne does not have to be expensive and I would rather cut my teeth on bottles between 20 and 35 € rather than the big bottles. It is much easier by starting on them to get a sense of style of the producer and the typicity of the region the champagne comes from. Once I have found producers or regions within the Champagne which appeal to me, I would start to work my way up, with an understanding of the basic champagnes it becomes easier to under the step ups in quality, the idiosyncracies of individual parcels, vintage and grape sorts.