Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Wine Rules: 8: Non-vintage Champagne. It gets better.

I'm given a bottle of Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut NV (Non Vintage) Champagne. This presents me with a dilemma. With a recommended retail price (RRP) of £28.99 it's at the premium end of the NV market.

But I'm actually quite a fan of cheap Champagne. Not this decent stuff. But the cheapest. Bargain bin. 

The French appellation system ensures even cheap Champagne comes with its own guarantee of quality, almost every week you can find it on special offer somewhere - and everybody is your friend when you've got some.

You must've experienced that? You offer somebody a drink and they say 'no thanks' and they proffer one of the usual excuses and explanations: they're driving, they're pregnant, they're on antibiotics. Then you enquire of the greater gathering whether it's Champagne all round? and suddenly your teetotallers are sidling up to you as you fill flute after flute with the fizzy stuff: 

Actually I think it's Clive's turn to drive today 


well one won't hurt and some research did suggest light drinking in pregnancy could in fact be good for boys in the womb and I've got a feeling from the kicks this is an alpha male probably


it's not really the antibiotics per se, just doctor's orders 

accompanied by a knowing and conspiratorial wink from your dodgy uncle, or sometime 'uncle'.

Your best bet is to buy it in France of course - typically at around the £10-a-bottle mark 'everyday' (if only) Champagne can be found on the shelves of all French supermarkets - but if that's not possible just keep an eye on the UK supermarkets by signing up for their email offers as they have the buying power when there's a glut. And there often is. 

No need to be embarrassed either. 

I have no qualms whatsoever about filling a trolley with NV Champagne and nothing else and nor have my erstwhile wine merchant colleagues. 

On one occasion when word got around of a heavily discounted - half-price I think it was - household name on offer at the local supermarket the shop manager urgently had to introduce a limit of five cases per person such was the rush of wine trade insiders and restaurateurs eager either to fill their boots or cash in. 

What the former knew, wine buyers, traders and makers amongst them, was that even such huge volume, big brand non-vintage Champagne has one unheralded quality that earns it a place in many a cellar.

It gets better with age.

So much so that in just a couple of years or three it acquires qualities comparable with vintage Champagne.

Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut NV is available
at Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols,
Majestic, Oddbins, Sainsbury's, Selfridges and
Waitrose to name but a few. RRP £28.99.
Which means that when you do encounter a genuine bargain half-price offer you can afford to indulge yourself secure in the knowledge that you don't have to hurry to enjoy it by drinking it with every meal, celebrating obscure saints days or even share it with friends. 

Just keep it, open a bottle when you fancy it. Compare it with your tasting notes from 18 months ago. Have fun with the changing flavours and texture, the increased elegance then eventually the inevitable drift towards maderisation through oxidation.

So what to do with this Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut NV? Too late. Just one bottle isn't enough. It's too good to keep. 

In the glass it's a pure gold with a green edge, a fine mousse and an even stream of delicate bubbles that wash down the sides of the flute to betray its relative lightness at 12% ABV. 

With Pinot Noir making up around a third of the assemblage it is concentrated and balanced with a crunchy fruit nose of pear and green apple plus a dash of vanilla, white flower notes and rich buttery yeastiness combining with rich Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on the palate for a balanced creamy weight offering peaches, pineapple, honey and ginger, decent length and a mouthfilling finish. Lovely clean and refreshing. 

And gone.

The Wine Rules: 8: Non-vintage Champagne. It gets better.

© 2011 John Alexander