SPRING INTO A SPARKLING ROSE.

Moet & Chandon Vintage Rose 2006. (£60, from your local wine shop).

I popped into Tante Marie’s new Culinary Academy premises in Woking town centre recently….. very impressive! Wandering through the spanking new kitchens I chatted to the chefs, sampling their food along the way, “what wine would you match with these maple caramel éclairs”, one of them asked. Spring’s in the air and they were all walking around with a bounce in our step so, let’s pour a special wine with the eclairs; a cracking Vintage Rose Champagne will do nicely. I know it’s expensive and I’ll get flack for the price tag but it is Vintage Champagne. “What’s Vintage all about”, I hear you say.

Champagne can only come from the Champagne region in north east France where its chalk soils and chilly climate produce steely fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Generally, the Champagne you pick off the shelf for about £25 is Non Vintage (NV.) which means its made from grapes from different years that are blended to create a consistent, recognisable House style year after year. That’s pretty skilful when you consider the variable, northerly climate inflicted on the Champagne vineyards. Moet & Chandon’s Rose Imperial N.V. for example, (£30, Asda, Tesco) consistently displays Moet’s recognisable light, fruity style. 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 (normally a sunny year) resulting in a “vintage” being “declared”. All the grapes in Moet’s Rose Vintage 2006 were harvested in 2006 (the year’s on the label) and therefore reflect that vineyard year in the wine.

Vintage or Non Vintage Champagne is generally a blend of three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This may seem odd as Chardonnay is white whilst the two Pinot’s are red but don’t forget that the juice of the grape is white, even in red grapes so gentle pressing is the secret to white Champagne. Moet’s Rose Vintage 2006 is made from Pinot Noir (47%) Chardonnay (33%) and Pinot Meunier (20%); the result is a generous, rich yet crisp, red fruit beauty with an attractive bitterness, lifted to a long elegant finish by a fine mousse. The éclairs have never had it so good!

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. The 2006 Rose spent over 6 years in Moet’s cool cellars in Epernay!

How does Rose Champagne get its colour? The Champagne winemaker has two options. All red wine gets its colour from the skins so for rose the winemaker can keep the skins in contact with the juice for a short period of time to extract the desired colour, be it delicate salmon or bold fairground pink. Being in Champagne, he can also add red wine to the white wine; this was Moet’s Chef de Cave Benoit Gouez’s choice for his Rose Vintage 2006 where red wine accounts for 23% of the blend.

Can you taste the difference between Vintage and Non Vintage? You certainly can! 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 and a really good singer from your local choir – the professional, just like the Vintage Champagne, can hold that last note for far longer – it’s simply a better finish. Talking about ‘finish’, our plate of maple caramel éclairs were finished in no time.

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