House of ‘Pagne

By The Editors
December 30, 2013 9:00 am

Champagne! It’s the official drink of toasts, weddings, anyone in a tuxedo, Diddy on a jet ski and New Year’s Eve.

Speaking of: here’s your cheat sheet to stocking the right bubbly, courtesy of Richard Juhlin, the world’s foremost champagne expert and prodigious quaffer of A Scent of Champagne: 8,000 Champagnes Tasted and Rated.

So, champagne. For my party. What should I know?
Choose the right glasses. Choose different champagnes in different styles. Choose some nice people to share them with.

We have at least two of those. What are the differences?
Non-vintage champagne is the cheapest but also least interesting, just for simple nightlife and first-time beginners. Blanc de blancs are the most feminine and lightly refined. For food pairing, get Blanc de noirs. The top-shelf champagnes are prestige cuvée and vintage, which are the best price-performing champagnes, in most cases.

I keep seeing this word “Brut,” which reminds me of my high school cologne.
It means dry, and all good champagnes are Brut … but that is nothing to put too much focus on, since the level of brut-ness can vary.

In high school I definitely used too much brut-ness.

When I’m in the liquor store, what do I look for on the bottle? 
The vintage. 2008, 2002 and 1996 are best right now. Grand cru is often the best bargain if you’re looking at an unknown label.

We’ll probably have a small party. What’s something inexpensive but still tasty?
Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs, Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut, Pol Roger White Label, Andre Clouet Silver Brut … in that order.

If money is no object?
You should plan an early and long champagne dinner starting with some elegant canapés and a blanc de blancs like 2004 Pierre Peters les Chetillons, followed by a seafood salad and a bottle of 1999 R.Lalou from Mumm. Then a turbot with champagne sauce and 2002 Henriot and finish with a bottle of Bollinger, Krug or Gosset with a partridge or quail with mushrooms. Skip champagne for dessert and let the cork fly with sabrage with a sable at the strike of midnight and choose a simple non-vintage, since it’s time for celebration, not focused enjoinment.

Right. Let’s talk middle ground.
The same, but change the seafood salad to beluga caviar, the regular mushrooms to black Vaucluse truffles and the champagnes to an old Salon, a 1985 Belle Epoque, a 1966 Cristal and a Bollinger Vieilles Vignes.

What’s your favorite Champagne cocktail? 
Champagne cocktail? Never use real champagne. It is always good on its own. Use a sparkling wine instead.

Which sparkling wine?
Nyetimber from England! Quite simply the best sparkling wine outside Champagne today.

How do you feel about Prosecco?
Better than Cava and drinkable if extremely well-chilled. But nothing for me.


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