Hubble Bubble

Sales of champagne rocket in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, but if you pick the right bottle, there’ll be less toil and trouble

Can you remember the last time you studied your glass of champagne? Actually looked at it closely, noting the intensity of the colour and size of the bubbles? Aside from people working in the wine trade or the student who has gone through the rigours of WSET exams, hardly anybody does before happily knocking it back.

But the colour doesn’t just entice you, it informs. Younger champagnes are light, almost transparent in colour whereas older vintages with some bottle age (five years or more) can develop a lovely deep golden hue.

Good quality champagne should also display small, elegant bubbles effervescing swiftly up the champagne flute. However as champagne ages, the fizz will slow down but this doesn’t tend to happen until a good 20-plus years of ageing has occurred. Any younger champagne with sluggish, fat bubbles is not a good sign.

Once dismissed as frivolous or only suitable for raucous bridal parties, rosé champagne is now being taken seriously. Still, the hue on cheaper varieties can unfortunately be a garish candy-pink which wouldn’t look out of place in a child’s pretend drinks cabinet, but in general rosé champagnes have the light salmon-orange pink that the French call ‘onion skin’ or more poetically, oeil de Perdrix. ‘Partridge eye’ refers to the pale pink colour a partridge’s eyes go after being shot. More poetic perhaps than onion skin but still not very romantic.

The variety of rosé colours also depends on the percentages of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes used. Commonly, rosé champagne is made by merely tipping some still pinot noir red wine into the sparkling wine cuvee, but regular champagne swillers tend to prefer the saignée method where the pinot noir grapes are allowed to macerate in their skins for a bit longer, letting some of the red tints from the skin (where grapes derive their colour from) bleed into the mixture.

Blanc de blancs champagne is made from pure chardonnay grapes which produces a lovely, smooth and elegant champagne, light in colour and delicate in flavour. It’s extremely popular as a pre-dinner aperitif and it’s always good to comment knowledgeably to your drinking partner on your tipple’s grape make up - if they’re interested.

So next time you’re raising a flute to your lips in celebration, why not pause and take note of what you’re really drinking? Happy swigging!


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