Cheers: Break out the Champers

By Don Kavanagh

Our bubbles are good, says Don Kavanagh, but nothing's like the real thing.

The GH Mumm Vineyard produces delectable wines.
The GH Mumm Vineyard produces delectable wines.

Summer might not exactly be knocking on our door, but you get the undeniable feeling that it's certainly in the post at the very least.

Despite the sudden paroxysms of violent weather, you can almost feel the summer trying to settle in for a nice, comfortable and, most importantly, long stay.

And that makes me want to celebrate; and there is really only one drink that screams celebration - Champagne.

The joy of a glass of bubbles can never be underestimated, especially when it's the real drop. Despite the brilliant quality of New Zealand fizz, there is something about French Champagne that adds an extra frisson to the proceedings.

It's quite fashionable to sneer at French fizz these days, whether from misplaced parochialism or imagined slight by the French wine industry, but it's almost impossible to downplay the sheer exuberance and verve of Champagne.

This was brought home to me recently when I spent a lingering lunch in the company of the effortlessly stylish, suave and gentlemanly Didier Mariotti, the chief winemaker for the Mumm Champagne house. Being in the company of well-dressed, elegant French men and two gorgeous women had me feeling like a bit of a gargoyle, to be honest, but it's a tribute to the power of Champagne that hardly had we finished the first bottle before I began to feel as sophisticated as the next man.

And trying the Champagne was no great chore either. As well as the familiar Mumm Cordon Rouge, there were examples of a new Blanc des Blancs, vintage wines from 2004 and 2006 and the utterly delectable Cuvee R Lalou 1999. A dizzyingly good wine of rarity and rapture, so it was a fairly enjoyable afternoon, as you can imagine. But one thought struck me as I sipped a flute of the standard Cordon Rouge: I'd completely forgotten how good it tastes.

That can often be a problem with Champagne: familiarity can breed a species of contempt. But unless you are drinking a lot of Champagne it is easy to forget how fantastic they can be and the hardworking non-vintage blends that do most of each label's heavy lifting earnings-wise are little miracles of achievement in themselves.

I pointed out to Monsieur Mariotti that, with so many stages involved in making Champagne, there were a lot of places where things could go wrong, but he suggested that more stages simply meant more opportunity to fix anything that might go wrong.

I hadn't thought of it like that, but it makes sense. Champagne goes through stages including original fermentation, secondary fermentation, lees-ageing, riddling, degorgement and dosage, so it is a pretty complex and time-consuming wine.

But all that effort is well worth it when you pop the cork and feel that surge of fizzy happiness escaping from the bottle, so perhaps you should remind yourself of just what happiness tastes like as the summer gradually makes all our thoughts turn to better things.

- Herald on Sunday

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