There's a quote from Lily Bollinger, that obvious marketing potential aside, sums up how I feel about champagne: “I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty.”
Not that I drink quite that much Champagne (or anything like it) but it's always seemed a shame to keep it for special occasions. The better the bottle the bigger the shame - it deserves to be appreciated. My mother and I have a Christmas Eve tradition, when everything is done we open the best bottle I have, drink it, relax and talk - including about all the things we're planning.
It's a nice moment - everything is prepared for Christmas, the stress is more or less over for the year, and it's time to look forward. It's Pol Roger for us tonight, and a good hunt through Sheila McGregor's 'Traditional Fair Isle Knitting' to start working out a pattern for some boot toppers I'm meant to be knitting mum. Champagne is the perfect accompaniment for making plans of all sorts- big or small.
Quality matters with fizz, which isn't to say you need to spend a fortune on it, it's just not worth being mean about. The same goes for prosecco, cava, and so on (which are made with different grapes and are for another occasion). English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength - Ridgeview is my favourite widely available brand (I think it has the edge on Nyetimber, and it's often on offer for £20 or less) and it's a match for plenty of champagnes at twice the price. Lindauer special reserve from New Zealand is excellent, and relatively overlooked these days - it's hard to go wrong with New Zealand generally. Sparkling Burgandy is an excellent bet too.
Veuve Clicquot, Moët, Mumm, and Lanson are all fine, but better kept for a while after buying. In the old days wine merchants would keep champagne for at least 6 months before putting it on sale, they don't do that now so the chances are that it will taste quite 'green' and acidic if you open it directly after buying. Taittinger, Laurent Perrier, Perrier Jouet, and Louis Roederer are all widely available and excellent. Pol Roger is the best big brand for my money, Billecart Salmon when I can find it.
Non vintage champagne is blended to be consistent from year to year, and will happily keep somewhere cool, dark, and with an even temperature, for 3 - 5 years. Not the fridge though, keep fizz in the fridge to long and it loses its sparkle. It is arguably a better bet than vintage champagne.
Vintage Champagne reflects a specific year, with vintages only being declared after particularly good harvests. You can expect a richer, more characterful champagne and it's nice if the year has specific meaning for you. However the price tag is often almost double so if you're not particularly curious to see what the vintage is like, it's not neccesarilly worth spending the extra on it.
It's the same for things like Dom Perignon, Krug, and so on. They're amazing champagnes but they're only worth the money if you have it spare (though if anyone else is offering to buy than the answer is an unequivocal yes). Still, there's something very satisfying at the end of the busiest week of the work year to sit down with something that feels really decadent and just enjoy it.