A vintage or nonvintage christmas

EITHER WAY, IT’LL BE SPARKLING!

Christmas in a Surrey village is special. Drinks with friends in the local pub before the year’s most anticipated lunch, the rounds of festive drinks, topped off of course by the office party, are getting us all excited. The lunch and the drinks do’s tend to follow family traditions but the office party …that’s another story. ‘How can we make it better than last year’ will be the buzz in Accounts and HR, not to mention the 7.43.

How about having a comparative tasting of Vintage and Non Vintage Champagne to give your Christmas office party a flying start? Come to think of it, if you’re feeling flush how about giving your traditional Christmas lunch a Champagne kickstart. “What’s the difference between Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne?”, I hear you ask.

Just like Christmas office parties are generally a blend of three things; youth, beauty and experience, so Champagne is generally a blend of three grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

In that much, Vintage and Non-Vintage (N.V.) are the same. But, for N.V. Champagne, grapes from different years are blended to create a consistent, recognisable House style year after year. That’s pretty skilful when you consider the chilly, variable, northerly climate of the Champagne region in north-east France! Taittinger’s N.V. for example, (£ 36,99, at Asda, Waitrose and Tesco), consistently displays Taittinger’s recognisable crisp elegant lightness. Being a blend of years N.V. doesn’t have a year on the label.

Vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is an altogether nobler creation. It’s made from grapes harvested in the same year. It’s not any old year either; it’s a year in which the weather conditions produce excellent grapes (that normally means a sunny year) resulting in a “vintage” being “declared”. All the grapes in Pommery’s Grand Cru Vintage 2004 (£54,99, www.ocado.com) were harvested in 2004 (the year’s on the label) and therefore reflect that vineyard year; a year that’s produced a full bodied, rich yet crisp wine.

The vineyards for Champagne grapes are graded between 80 and 100% (don’t ask why they don’t start at 0% – it’s a French thing!). Those between 90 and 99% are known as ‘Premier Cru’ whilst the 100% vineyards are ‘Grand Cru’. Vintage Champagne is made from higher graded (and therefore more expensive) grapes and will have also been aged longer in the cellars.

Can you taste the difference ? Yes, one way is to check out the finish – that’s how long the flavours stay in your mouth once you’ve swallowed. Think of it as the difference between the professional singer that pitches up at your office party and a really good singer from the local church choir – the professional, just like the Vintage Champagne, can hold that last note for far longer – it’s simply a better finish.

Whether you’re in Surrey or Sussex, Vintage or Non Vintage …. A very Happy Christmas to all my readers.

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