The glory of champagne

Champagne remains one of the great wine styles. It is essentially a luxury item, marketed to people as an aspiration. Some champagnes are so lovely they should be regarded as treasures.

The champagne region is at the northernmost limit of where it is possible to ripen wine grapes. The home for Jacquesson Champagne is the village of Dizy, where the average annual temperature is only 10C.

The art of blending developed as a way to cope with a variety of vintage conditions at such northerly latitudes.

Grapes for Jacquesson champagnes are pressed gently to get the best juice, known as the cuvée. The cuvée is the first 2,050 litres of juice from 4,000 kg of grapes.

The next 500 litres are known as the taille (tail), and produce wines of a more coarse character. Champagne producers such as Jacquesson pride themselves on only using the cuvée.

All of the vineyards from which their grapes come are grand cru or premier cru – the best in the region.

Fermentation takes place in large oak foudres, which allow the wine to breath, and the wine is left on the lees. The lees are stirred weekly for several months to extract flavour. After the wine is bottled, some cuvée champagnes spend up to 15 years in the cellar prior to being released.

Jacquesson’s Cuvée 735 is the current release. It has a mineral mouthfeel, with intense aromas of grapefruit and quince. If it’s possible to give human characteristics to a champagne, this is like an elegantly dressed woman, lithe and feminine with a lovely sense of charm and finish.

The Jacquesson’s Cuvée 736, yet to be released, was previewed for the media. Brothers Laurent and Jean-Herve Chiquet, who make and market Jacquesson champagne respectively, believe it is the best cuvee they have yet produced, based on fruit from the 2008 vintage.

Once while on holiday in Greece I slept on the roof of a village apartment building in mid summer. The aroma of baking bread awoke me early next morning. This champagne evoked delicious memories of that morning.

Cuvée 736 tastes like a sweet from my childhood called a sherbert lemon: citrus tang combined with sherbert zing. The acidity is like the sarcastic comments of a close friend – loving and challenging at the same time.

The 2002 vintage appeared next at the tasting. It has a majestic mousse that sings in the mouth, and broad and elegant acidity similar to the sherbert lemon sweets mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The nose is like the aroma of toast on a winter’s morning, awaiting the gentle touch of butter and jam.

The 2007 Dizy Terre Rouge rose champagne completed the Jacquesson tasting. It is made from pinot noir grapes and has aromas of raspberry jam, though without the sweetness of jam. It is almost like a sparkling version of a burgundy from Chambolle-Musigny.

This wine has only recently been released and is almost ethereal. The name comes from the red soils around the town of Dizy. The flavours in the mouth suggest crunchy ripe red apples combined with lime zing.

At an earlier tasting the Moet & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage champagne was made available to the press. Every grand vintage is unique and reflects the personal interpretation of that year’s grapes by the cellar master – known as the chef de caves.

Vintage champagnes are rare because they are only made in years when the grapes are considered of sufficiently high quality.

This wine spent seven years in the cellar and a minimum of six months ageing after disgorgement (the process whereby the lees or dead yeast from fermentation are removed from the wine).

It has a bead that looks like a jewel in the glass with aromas of white peach, lemon and pears. It tastes of candied melon with a touch of marzipan, and it has a long and almost sensuous finish.

Champagnes like those described above make life worthwhile. It may be a luxury good, but sometimes it verges on being essential. We’ll end with one of my favourite quotes from Napoleon Bonaparte: “In victory, you deserve champagne; in defeat, you need it.”

* Published in China Post, 25 October 2012, page 10. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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