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Special Occasion Champagnes

My Top Five Special Occasion Champagnes

“Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes, the special occasion is that you have a bottle of champagne in the fridge.”

Hestor Browne

Special occasions champagnes

The hardest part of writing this special occasion champagnes list was working out what exactly is special? I worked out my definition of what makes a “special” occasion is pretty loose. And the quote above from Hestor Browne does a pretty good job of summing it up.

I usually just decide that I deserve it (and of course I do!) but if you need to displace some guilt or justify the cost, let’s give ‘special’ some context by saying a special occasion is someone’s birthday. (Of course, the good news is every day it’s someone’s birthday… you just might not know them!) Or maybe you’re going to someone’s place for dinner and you don’t want to look like a total cheap-arse but you don’t want to share the really good stuff. I find special occasion champagnes can be a very flexible concept.

It might help to check out my top 5’s for:

For when only the best champagne will do.

So let’s kick off this list with…

1. Louis Roederer Brut Premier

Louis Roederer (or LRod as he is known to my friends) Brut Premier (NV) is a strong sentimental favourite. Louis Roederer always stands out to me as one of the few remaining houses to not routinely employ malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is a process which softens wine to make younger wine more approachable. So instead of softening its wine, the Louis Roederer style embraces the natural acidity and freshness of champagne.

Roederer’s Chef de Cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, described it well to us at a dinner in Brisbane last year…

“We don’t want the grapes to be what we want, we let them be what they are.”

It’s because of this freshness and acidity, I think, that some of my friends say they struggle to really enjoy Louis Roederer. And I can totally relate to that… But the trick is, don’t think of Louis Roederer as being a Friday night drink for a laugh with the girls. For me, opening a bottle of Louis Roederer is a bit like going to a modern art exhibit… sometimes you know you’re just not in the mood … you’re better off staying home! And sometimes you go but you’re not really sure you “get it”. But on the day you are in the right mood and feeling a bit deep, philosophical and reflective, you love it. Same with LRod… find your mood (and that in itself could be special occasion) and you’ll love adding this to your list of special occasion champagnes too.

The LRod Blend is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier with 30% reserve wines.

Louis Roederer Brut Reserve

2. Champagne Brimoncourt Blanc de blancs 

Champagne Brimoncourt is a relatively new Champagne brand, that was re-born in 2008 by Alexandre Cornot, a former lawyer and art collector who almost accidentally started a champagne house (read more about the Brimoncourt story here).

The house was founded on the idea of getting back to the original DNA of champagne, to a time when it was a light, joyful fun wine, that you’d drink with friends, but not at all formal.. which I love!

Brimoncourt production is based in the village of Ay-Champagne but they use grapes from all over the region. Their style is fundamentally for chardonnay… in their range the Brut Regence is 80% chardonnay and the blanc de blancs is of course 100% chardonnay.

The chardonnay comes from 8 crus : Avize, Vertus, Oger, Grauves, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Villers-Marmery, Cuis and Chouilly… and I have it on good authority that it’s about 90% Grand Cru (catch up what the cru system is here).

The dosage is 6-7g/l and the champagne spends 4 years on lees.

The result is a fresh, zesty with a hint of floral champagne and a lovely mineral finish which makes for a great aperitif, stunning with smoked salmon, sashimi, sushi, shellfish and grilled fish.

Champagne Brimoncourt Blanc de blancs

You can buy the Blanc de blancs from Emperor Champagne online for $89 or selected Vintage Cellars for $99.

3. Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé

I’ve had a number of experiences when tasting rosé champagnes from the houses that produce some of my absolute fave brut champs, and I have been a bit disappointed in their rosés not living up to the impression left by their Brut champagnes.

For Billecart-Salmon and the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé… it’s the reverse. The rosé is the champion of the house and it’s hard for the Brut Reserve to compare.

And it’s not just me. The Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé is one of the most widely and highly regarded rosé champagnes on the planet amongst wine writers, sommeliers and chefs. In fact, it is one of the most ‘listed’ rosé champagnes in the world. And by ‘listed’ I mean listed on the menus of award-winning restaurants for its impeccable pairing ability for breakfast, lunch or dinner menus from canapes through to delicate desserts.

The blend is not so different from the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, but the rosé has a little more chardonnay and a little less meunier (it’s 40% chardonnay, 30% pinot meunier from Vallee de la Marne, and 30% pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne), with 7% of pinot noir from Mareuil vinified as a red wine.

The house describes its rosé as romantic… the colour alone can break my heart every time I pour it, and the flavours and aromas are like a raspberry kiss with a hint of citrus. Spring rosé champagnes perfection!

More tech specs… 9g/l dosage, 40% reserve wines and aged on lees for 36 months.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé

You can order yours from Emperor Champagne for $115… this is not a champagne you will ever really find on sale… a good sign of a true classic.

4. Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

If I want to spoil myself, this is where I will start. Every time. I love this wine. I really love this wine! When people ask me “what’s your favourite champagne?”, I can never give an answer with just ONE champagne… it depends on my mood or the occasion or the budget BUT this one will always feature somewhere in my answer! And that is because it’s a truly spectacular non-vintage wine… that you could be forgiven for mistaking as a vintage or even cuvée de prestige champagne!

Technically an NV champagne, I think it is more deserving of being considered a multi-vintage champagne. And here is why it’s so spectacular:

  • Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve is renowned for including 40% reserve wines dating back as many as 15 years (few champagnes go back beyond 8-9 years and most venture back far fewer years).
  • Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve spends at least 6 years ageing – the minimum is 15 months but most NV champagnes are aged 3 years.

That sounds like a lot of words but as soon as you try this champagne you will instantly taste what that all means.  I talk a lot about grapes and how they change the wine, and the other major influencing factor is age. Age brings a richness to champagne that once you see, smell and taste it, it will be instantly recognisable. The characteristics I associate most with aged champagnes are the taste of honey and a distinct, deep golden colour. The age shines through in this wine with honey, brioche, and velvety ripe fruit laced with vanilla.

I served this wine in a blind tasting of seven champagnes to a group of champagne lovers, who were all also my girlfriends so they’re not fancy-pants wine snobs or experts. And they all picked it in their top two wines from the tasting. And when the tasting was over and I had revealed what each champs was, I asked them which wine they wanted me to pour more of first… the deafening response was “the Charlie”!

We debated how I should describe this champagne in non-champagne terms… I imagine myself reclining on a tan chesterfield leather sofa drinking this for my next birthday with Idris Elba. One friend and her husband fought hard for a George Clooney reference but I am standing by Idris.

The blend is equal amounts of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay with 11g/l dosage. I served this in the tasting alongside Pol Roger Brut Reserve which is also an equal blend of the three grapes. I put them together deliberately to contrast the two and highlight the effects of:

  • Reserve wine (25% in Pol versus 40% in Charlie, also dating back to vintages up to 15 years old)
  • Ageing (six years on lees for Charlie versus three years for Pol)
  • And the use of oak for fermentation for the Charles Heidsieck

Try that as a #champagneschool homework assignment!

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

5. Philipponnat Royal Reserve Brut 

In Australia, Philipponnat is not a household name like the other houses in my top five. But the family has owned its land in Champagne since 1522 and in particular the house is famous for a single plot of land, the Clos des Goisses. (Clos in French means walled vineyard and Goisses means very steep slope.)

This very special 5.5 hectare plot is inclined at 45 degrees and faces due south – meaning it is never in shade – which has a unique effect on ripening the grapes grown here. The Clos des Goisses champagne is one for a very, very, very special occasion but the Royale Reserve Brut is a fave of mine for special occasions. And it’s not just me. I served this wine in the same blind tasting I talked about above and this was the other wine they all picked in their top two.

This house style I would describe as powerful and distinctive. The team at Philipponnat walk to the beat of their own drum. They don’t yield to trends, staying true to their unique style which is characterised by more mature grapes and lower dosage. While the NV is a fairly standard 8g/l, the vintage and other wines are quite low in dosage (4-5g/l). The house is based in Mareuil-sur-Ay… also home to Bollinger and the terroir in this village is renowned for powerful, exciting pinot noir grapes.

The blend is 65% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier.

Philipponnat Royal Réserve Brut

Try these champs and let me know what you think! Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #topfivechampagnes

 

Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.