Today is my birthday so the last 24 hours have featured a few interesting bottles; though it turns out that these days/at my age 1 large gin and a shared bottle of champagne is quite enough to be going on with. When I was really very young, and thought the dryness of champagne was disgusting my mother told me it would be useful to develop a taste for it and that perseverance was the key. She was right about perseverance and as it happens a taste for champagne has turned out to be useful in my line of work - though otherwise the point might be debatable. Good champagne is a wonderful thing, other sparkling wines have their place, but nothing else has acquired quite the same carefully cultivated glamour.
Forgive me if what follows reads like instructions to suck eggs but this is my accumulated advice and wisdom based on 16 years of selling fizz to people and taking into account the most frequently asked questions. For larger parties where nobody is paying much attention to what they're drinking anything reasonably good will do, but if you like champagne and there's going to be time to appreciate it, get something really good. Don't wait until you need it to buy it; really big brands (Moët or Veuve Clicquot for example) are bought and sold really young, generally speaking they'll taste a lot rounder and more mellow if they've had 6 months peace and quiet - if you have a favourite and it's on a good offer somewhere pick it up and put it to one side. Non vintage (NV) champagne will keep (lay down) happily enough for 5 years or so provided that a) you don't keep it in a fridge - it'll lose its sparkle, b) you don't keep it on a fridge - or anywhere to warm or in direct sunlight, or where the temperature is prone to fluctuate wildly. I find the back of my wardrobe is a reasonably adequate cellar.
NV means it's fizz made from a mix of new and reserve wines, with the aim of providing consistency - it should always be the same. Vintage champagnes are made from grapes specific to that year, and only when the harvest is good enough to warrant it, there should be a distinctive house style but each vintage will be different. NV is not necessarily second best.
Demi-Sec champagne isn't as easy to find as it could be, but it's a much easier drink on an empty stomach, lovely as a dry (brut) champagne is the high acidity can be quite hard work at times. Demi-Sec is also much better with cake, and for people who think they don't like champagne.
Now that I've reached a sensible age I'm also a proper fan of half bottles. They're the perfect size for 1 person, or for 2 to share if a glass each is all that's wanted. They're not as heavy to carry on a picnic, and are excellent Christmas stocking fillers. I like to have a few around for 'emergencies' and it's specifically a half bottle I'm recommending for a book pairing.
I've had 'A Notable Woman' for a couple of weeks, and have been desperate to get stuck into it but it's a big book and with everything else going on in December I haven't really had time. It's the romantic journals of Jean Lucy Pratt edited by Simon Garfield. Jean contributed to the mass observation project and Garfield has used her material in previous books. Eventually he got his hands on the journals she kept for most of her life from 1925 until 1986. I'm drawn to Jean partly because she didn't marry or have children (there are affairs), partly because she ran a bookshop too. I can't off hand think of another book which gives such a load and clear voice to a woman like Jean - a clever, talented, educated, funny, sometimes disappointed, professional (she trained as an architect and wrote criticism) ordinary woman who has to make the best of what comes along and sometimes finds it hard.
I can't do Jean justice from the skimming I've done through her journals, a proper review will follow, but meanwhile I can say with confidence that she'd make an excellent present for fans of Virago or Persephone and that she definitely deserves champagne. We both do.