Six champagnes to have before you die

The Prices may test the weak-hearted, but these bottles are about as good as they get. And every one comes with lore attached. Cheers!

Print Edition: October 5, 2008

The Prices may test the weak-hearted, but these bottles are about as good as they get. And every one comes with lore attached. Cheers!

Krug grand cuvee
Krug grand cuvee
Krug grand cuvee
Although it is the crown jewel of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) luxury empire, the champagne bears the stamp of Henri Krug, who took charge of winemaking in 1962 and is still at it with Eric Lebel. The racy wine gets its distinctive character, according to the company, when primary fermentation occurs completely in small oak barrels, a practice not commonplace anymore in Champagne.

Krug is also famous for Clos du Mesnil, made in the blanc de blancs style (entirely from Chardonnay). In April this year, the company released the 1995 Clos d’Ambonnay, its debut blanc de noirs, made entirely from Pinot Noir from a single 1.69-acre vineyard. Naturally, these are Priced in a manner that’ll test the weak-hearted, and are impossible to get in India.

Bollinger special cuvee
Bollinger special cuvee
Dom perignon
Named after the Benedictine monk wrongly credited with the invention of champagne (he spent all his life actually trying to remove the bubbles from still wines produced in Champagne), it had a delayed first release in 1936, although the vintage was 1921, because of the Great Depression. Around 5 million bottles of Dom, also an LVMH product from Moët & Chandon, are produced in each vintage. The wine has 55 per cent Chardonnay and 45 per cent Pinot Noir. It is bone dry, with all of 7 gm of residual sugar per litre.

Bollinger special cuvee
It was in Live and Let Die (1973) that James Bond shifted his loyalty from Dom to Bollinger, and it was the favourite thirst quencher of the characters of Absolutely Fabulous, the BBC comedy sitcom that ran from 1992 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2005.

Bolly, though, owes its fame to its style—it is consistently dry, full-bodied and toasty. Bollinger, like Bond, is a gutsy, hedonistic drink, and surprisingly, Prince Charles served it at his bachelor party before marrying Diana. The rest, as they say, is history, but champagne cannot be blamed for the way the marriage unravelled.

Louis roederer cristal
Originally created for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876, it is still fit for a Siberian oil oligarch. Expensive and elusive—very little is produced each year—and it is best 10 to 15 years after bottling, when it develops a memorable richness. It’s the only champagne that comes in a clear glass bottle—apparently to cater to the whims of the tsar— wrapped in cellophane wrapper to protect its contents from ultraviolet and fluorescent light.

Once a favourite of rappers, Cristal took a hit when its MD said that hip hop had brought “unwelcome attention” to his brand. Jay Z made his racist comments an international issue—and rightly so.

Louis roederer cristal
Louis roederer cristal
Veuve clicquot la grande dame
The grand lady celebrated by this champagne is Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin, the young widow of Francis Clicquot who died in 1805 (veuve, incidentally, is widow in French). Ponsardin invented the riddling rack, in which bottles used to be rotated manually at periodic intervals so that the dead yeast cells from fermentation settled into the neck of the glass, to be disgorged later. Champagne workers, predictably, had the best biceps till mechanised racks made an appearance. If La Grande Dame is a bit too grand for your tastes, go for the Yellow Label, which is a straightforward bundle of effervescence.

Moet & chandon brut imperial
In the company of greats, this champagne dedicated to Napoleon I may not sit well. But it is the world’s top-selling bubbly, it’s been around since 1743 and has been drunk by many a notable across continents. It is also the first champagne house to be listed on the stock market. Now a part of the LVMH empire,

Moët & Chandon is driven as much by aggressive marketing (in 2006, the champagne house illuminated the Statue of Liberty on its 120th anniversary), easy availability and of course, consistent quality. If you’re new to champagne, make Moët your starting point. And yes, you do pronounce the ‘t’ at the end.

What to eat while you drink

You could say that, where champagne is concerned, food is a mere distraction from the serious business of drinking. But, in fact, there’s all kinds of little snacks and canapés that can punctuate your sipping.

Cheese is best of all: try Brie or mild cheddar, Chevre (French for goat cheese), Colby from Wisconsin (USA), Edam and Gouda (both from Holland)

Pate: champagne goes great with duck or goose liver, even though the classical match is Sauternes, the iconic dessert wine from France.

Oysters: Winston Churchill loved having raw oysters with champagne. No lemon or vinegar, mind.

Mushrooms: the versatile fungus matches champagne wonderfully.

Sushi: just a marriage made in heaven. Try putting out a sushi platter at your next party, watch your guests smacking their fingers!

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