bm expert: BELINDA AUCOTT’S GUIDE TO SELECTING A CHAMPAGNE

moet and chandon

ONE OF OUR MOST-FAVOURITE DRINKS &
ONE OF OUR MOST-FAVOURITE PEOPLE

Belinda Aucott from Champagne Republic shares her beautiful illustrations & her expertise on how to choose the perfect champagne


As Bridget Bardot famously said, Champagne can give you a bit of zest when you are tired. When I first started reviewing champagne three years ago I drank anything as long as it was bubbly and from the region of Champagne. I loved Ruinart and Lanson for their pretty labels and I always returned to classics like Pol Roger and Bollinger.

Now that I have studied them all and learnt a bit more about the smaller producers, my tastes have expanded. While I still love the savoury salve of a Veuve Clicquot rosé or the lush fruit of a Louis Roederer Brut Premier, I love trying to new champagne too. See below for my guide to buying wine for a special occasion or for your every day indulgence.

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1. Go Indie

Like climbing Mount Everest, a guide to help you find your way to the top, is indispensable when it comes to Champagne! Grand Marques might offer you some cold comfort in terms of brand familiarity but finding an in-house wine boffin at your local is an absolute must for a lady wanting to go beyond.

Never shy away from telling Bottleshop Boffins your personal taste. Good independent retailers usually have a lot of knowledge up their sleeve. If you want a full-bodied style that can handle food, tell them. If you want it for a quick celebratory aperitif to drink before you eat dinner, let them know. Context and timing is everything. Picnic wine, is distinct from food wine. Find your Champagne sherpa and head to the top.

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2. Buy the best you can afford

The great thing about Champagne is the quality. Like selecting perfume from one of the great perfume houses of France – most Champagne can cut the mustard. So don’t sweat it. Just buy the best you can afford. These days you can find quality at $35.00 per bottle like Piper Heidsieck, $70 is pretty standard and then the quality sky rockets from about $120 onwards.

In basic terms you can’t go wrong. From time to time try a bigger, bolder wine and spend more – you will not regret it on your deathbed.

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3. Know the lingo

Like fashion, Champagne has its own instructions on the label. Brut is dry. Extra Brut is very dry. Brut Nature means very little sugar has been added. Zero Dosage means little or no sugar was added to the final wine – this is bone dry Champagne and great if you are fearful of sweet fleshy wines. Sec means sweet, and demi sec means semi sweet. Avoid these sweeter styles if you can. Even with cake or desserts, a dry style, with great acid will help cut through sugar and cream.

My advice is to go for the classic blend which is Chardonnay; Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Yes that’s right, most Champagnes are made with both red and white grapes. But if you are Chardonnay lover like me and you love stone fruit lemon, melon and some fleshy fruit definition on the palate, then you will also LOVE a Blanc de Blancs (in French ‘white of whites’ which is an all Chardonnay blend). This is a classy brew. Try a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs for the good start on the ladder.

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4. Invest in vintage

Vintage is not just for the flea markets of Paris. You can splurge on a vintage Champagne for a wedding / engagement gift or to make statement at a corporate affair. It’s important to venture out from the Non Vintage mainstream when you can, if just so you can expand your Champagne horizons. It might cost you a bit more, but you will be rewarded with an unforgettable drop. Bare in mind that some of the best vintages in recent years were and 2004 and 2008. If you are going to grab a Dom P to impress the pants off someone, then make it the 2002 or 2004.
Or if you can 1996!

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5. Support the Little Guys

Wine is a bit like good quality cheese. You need to get away from Coon and Bega to really find the gold. Okay I am going to say it. Every major house has its own house style, but in recent years it’s really the little boutique producers that are really making the most spell binding wine. That is funky, interesting and expressive Champagne that will knock your socks off from the very first sip. It is often creatively elaborated and organic. These baby houses make

Champagnes that express their little patch of earth brilliantly and the care and attention to detail really stands out. Consider the major difference when a grower makes only 3,000 bottles a year compared to Moet & Chandon who export 23 million bottles. Try Larmandier-Bernier, Egly Ouriet (pron: oo-ree-ay) and Agrapart (pron: ag-ra-parr). You will find it very hard to go back to the bigger houses once you get a taste for these little grower producers.

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{Images: courtesy of Belinda Aucott at Champagne Republic}

connect with Belinda here:

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