Aidy Smith is a wine and spirits expert, communicator and presenter. He presents the award-winning TV series on Amazon Prime, The Three Drinkers, which currently airs in 167 countries globally.
Did you know? Champagne can be decanted
Yes, you read that correctly. A little-known fact when it comes to sparkling wine is that some of our bubbly friends can actually benefit from being decanted. Decanting can help tame Champagnes that are young and have an aggressive effervescent quality to them (lots of bubbles that mask the flavour of the wine itself). They are most frequently used on demi-sec style Champagnes which have more sweetness that becomes lost in the fizz. Don’t be fooled, though - a traditional decanter isn’t going to do the trick and may have a countereffect. There are special decanters which look a little like watering cans - these do the best job at mellowing out Champagnes that could do with a bit of decanting.
Wine is like art and one of the most cherished forms in my mind is Champagne. This incredible category holds a symbolic status like no other wine style and to this day is an emblem of celebration, love and success. Here, I will share with you some of the most incredible Champagnes and sparkling wines I’ve tasted over the past few years, which you get your hands on as you set sail on your well earned voyage. Get ready to pop the corks on some of the finest Champagnes this planet has to offer.
Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2006
72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay
Average price: EUR 100
Madame Bollinger agreed to creating a rosé under one condition: it had to be extraordinary. Suffice to say, they’ve upheld that agreement. This exquisite blend taken from 14 Cru vineyards offers figs and redcurrants on the nose with a touch of tobacco, dried flowers and mint. Taking a sip introduces light plums, freshly cut grass and kirsch cherries, as a delicate mix of flavours combine to create the perfect elegance. I particularly enjoy this wonder with a duck fillet or rhubarb crumble, but with food or without, you won’t be disappointed.
Armand de Brignac Brut Rosé
50% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay.
Average price: EUR 350
There’s a reason Armand de Brignac has gained such a fabulous reputation. This complex treat is rich and sumptuous, offering strawberry and cherry as subtle hints of candied almonds and fresh flowers lift from the glass. Just like the bottle design, the flavour profile is equally as stunning, a plethora of rich meadow fruits and juicy red cherries begin the journey as a sweet Danish pastry flavour takes over on the finish. My particular favourites with this wonder include pretty much anything with truffle and wild salmon dishes, but it makes a bloody good aperitif as well.
Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut 2006
70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay
Average price: EUR 130
Red cherries, blackcurrants and strawberries combine to give a complex yet refined combination on both the nose and palate. This fruity flourish of flavours intensifies with each sip, giving you a little tartness, creaminess and freshness all in one. Big, boisterous and not afraid to grab your attention, if you have something to exclaim and celebrate, this is the Champagne for that! What about the food ? Easy, strawberries and cream, darling (or pretty much anything sweet!).
80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay
Average price: EUR 48
Sourced solely from Grand Cru vineyards, Delamotte macerates the dark skins of their pinot noir grapes in the wine, giving it an exuberant wild berry complexity and dazzling pink colour. With Delamotte being the sister estate of renowned Champagne house ‘Salon’, it’s little wonder why these bubbles taste so fine. Strawberry meets minerality with a dash of chalkiness and an amazing mouthfeel throughout. Got a sweet tooth? This works remarkably well with all desserts.
Billecart-Salmon 2008 Vintage
65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay
Average price: EUR 57
A yellow golden hue sits within the glass, the result of nine years on lees sitting within the chalk cellars of Billecart-Salmon. The nose is eccentric and offers so much - from lemon citrus and buttered brioche to plum jelly and fresh pastries. The palate is another story of complexity, a buttery biscuit meets plump white fruits, culminating in a zesty citrus finish. Perfect pairings here include everything from beef carpaccio to vegetable ravioli and every type of fish you can think of.
Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle
55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir
Average price: EUR 90
Three vintages come together to create a true masterpiece of time in the form of Grand Siecle. A prestige blend created from 11 of the 17 Grands Crus from the 2007, 2006 and 2004 vintages, No. 24 is a divine creation; the latest assemblage greets you with toasted almonds and gingerbread alongside distinct floral and lemon citrus aromas. The palate is rich, textured and offers a true finesse. Lemon, pear and grapefruit collide with a slight mineral and gun flint finish. Say hello to celebration.
La Grande Dame 2006
53% Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 47%
Average price: EUR 100
A tribute to Madame Clicquot herself, La Grande Dame launched in 1972 and has forever been described with just four words: freshness, silkiness, elegance and minerality. The colour is expressive, with golden glints winking at you from the glass. A zesty floral nose of peach, hazelnut, sweet brioche and roasted almonds begin to emerge from within, enticing you to take a sip. Here the real journey begins - a crisp and silky mouthfeel gives way to candied fruits and a chalky minerality on the palate. A distinct floral jumps out on the finish as you go back for more! Crab, lobster or dry aged cheese bring these bubbles to life even more!
Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2012
50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier
Average price: EUR 125
This exquisite trio blend shimmers with radiant glints of green and gold as it sits in the glass. While delicate notes of lime blossom and a subtle sweet acacia and honey grace the nose, juicy peaches, apricots, nectarines and pears make themselves known on the palate. Finesse at its finest with a crisp kiss of lemon to finish the story. This Champagne is world-renowned - and for a good reason.
Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2009
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay
Average price: EUR 170
In 1876 Louis Roederer produced a wine for Emperor Tsar Alexander II, since that date, Cristal has been recognised as one of the most stunning Champagnes in existence. Produced from only the best vintages, it is aged for six years in the famous Louis Roederer cellars before being left for another eight months after dégorgement. The result is a symphony of notes on the nose, including candied apricots, honeysuckle and citrus compote. The palate offers a texture built on structure and complexity - bright cherries meet chalk and you’ll experience a ripe and flourishing fruity backbone as the final chord is struck on a lemon rind finesse. A work of art, one might say.
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée Édition 166 NV
45% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Meunier
Average price: EUR 150
The Queen of the bubbles, blended from up to 200 cuvee’s which range up to 20 vintages. The result of which gives one of the most beautiful Champagnes to walk the earth. Fresh juicy apricot, lemon curd and hazelnuts meet walnuts dripping with honey, candied peaches and bread-and-butter pudding.