Matthew Fort’s Champagne Moments
Bringing his many years of sipping experience to bear, Matthew Fort confides that, although there are many great bottles to be enjoyed that pop and sparkle, it is champagne moments that reign supreme.
When isn’t a champagne moment, I’d like to know? I can remember celebrating buying my first flat in London by investing in a case of half bottles of Krug. Each night I would solemnly drink one while lying in the bath. Not so solemnly, to be strictly honest. There is something deliciously sybaritic about being immersed in the warmth of the water while at the same time feeling the icy cool of the fizz sliding down the throat.
I suppose I’ve always had a weakness for champagne. This doesn’t exclude a delight in other fizzy wines. Prosecco has its place in my universe, as do those effervescent bottles from South Africa, New Zealand and Spain, and with such labels as Nyetimber, we are producing immensely stylish fizzes of our own. Why, I even have a soft spot for the gentle, muscat flavours of Asti Spumante as well as the fizzy red wines of Emilia-Romagna. That combination of freshness, fruitiness and effervescence matches the admirable pork products of that part of Italy.
But when it comes down to it, there’s nothing quite like that elegant flute of straw-coloured wine, with beaded bubble winking at the brim. There’s the way it tickles your nose in a flirtatious way, the prickle against the roof of the mouth, the ineffable cool cascade over the tongue, the way it slips so elegantly down the gullet. It’s a drink that expands the sense of pleasure and possibilities in life. And it’s very easy—too easy—to drink more. Even better, there are increasing numbers of wines from interesting smaller houses to try, in addition to the classics from Taittinger, Dom Perignon, Deutz and Pol Roger.
A Feast of Flavours
I have been to lunches and dinners where evangelical champagne makers have tried to persuade me that their wine is the ideal accompaniment to any and all dishes. I am not convinced, although there are certain foods—smoked salmon, cold lobster, foie gras, caviar—with which the crisper, cleaner examples meld beautifully. Once upon a time you could get foie gras or caviar sandwiches at the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz Hotel. £5 for a round plus half a bottle of champagne. It seemed the acme of louche sophistication to me. I am talking of a long time ago.
The richer, fuller champagne, such as Alfred Gratien 2000, with higher levels of chardonnay and a bit of bottle age, have the structure and oomph to dance along with certain old fashioned, creamy dishes—poulet au…? sole?
Pretty in Pink
Once, pink champagne was rather looked down on, and labeled as a lady’s wine—although if that was the case, I was clearly in touch with my feminine side. I loved the stuff. And still do. Something like Laurent Perrier Rose Alexandre Bonnet Rose or Pommery Cuvée Louise Rose goes particularly well with strawberries—although we won’t be having any of those over Christmas—chocolates, oddly.
And with pudding, Christmas pudding even, and certainly Christmas cake, demi-sec champagne from Taittinger, Jacquart or Fortnum & Mason’s demi-sec champagne, the sweeter version, both enhances and refreshes.
But to my mind, it is as a sipping wine, an aperitif, where champagne reigns supreme. It lifts the spirits. It makes us feel more sophisticated, more worldly, and, before we get swept away, more intelligent.
Image courtesy of Pol Roger