Happy No Year!
I wasn’t much of a drinker when I was ten.
Milk was my poison back then but, even so, I began a lifelong fascination with Champagne one evening when my father let me stay up way past my bedtime to watch Goldfinger, ABC’s Sunday Night movie that week.
While I’d never heard of James Bond or Champagne, it didn’t take long for my elementary-school logic to work out that whatever was inside those bottles 007 was pouring made a very positive impression on girls wearing bikinis.
Of course, the “passion juice” in his glass was Dom Pérignon.
Imagine my heartbreak when I was finally old enough to hit a wine shop in search of a bottle only to discover that Dom (a super-premium champers only made in vintage years) costs over $150 and that the expense account of a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service was obviously nowhere near that of a full-time college student.
I’m sure lovers of rap music hit a similar wall when they’re out browsing today for Louis Roederer Cristal — a more than pricy bottle of bubbly that’s been able to work its way into many hip-hop tunes.
So what’s a person with Bond’s taste and a Trailer Park Boys bank account to do?
I go non-vintage (NV) — a highly underrated style of Champagne that far too often gets overshadowed by its vintage brethren.
Made from a blend of specially selected wines typically drawn from dozens of different vineyards (called crus), NV Champagnes offer a level of sophisticated flavour that delivers more bubbles for your buck than the big-gun brands.
Price aside, it’s how these non-vintage wines deliver in the glass that is their real appeal. Smooth, round and broad in texture, they taste like a dream on their own, but they also fit the bill as all-purpose food wines with enough oomph to partner with anything from oysters to Christmas dinner.
The following are some of the best. I think even Mr Bond would approve.
Pol Roger White Label Brut NV ($52.90)
Winston Churchill was such a fan that he named a racehorse after Jacques Pol Roger’s wife Odette. The family returned the favour, marking the labels of White Labels sold in the UK with a black border after his death. It was later softened to navy blue — appropriate since this soft, creamy classic rolls across the palate like a ship at sea with its casual nuttiness and delicate fruit blooming from where equal parts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier meet.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV ($63.95)
The modern Bond may drink Bolli’s vintage La Grand Année on screen, but for secret agents on a budget the Special Cuvée Brut is the best option for true class by the glass. The personalities of over thirty different crus and the dominance of Pinot Noir give the blend a muscular swagger that showcases a swirling profile of green apple, freshly squeezed citrus along with plenty of toasty sophistication.
Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin Yellow Label Brut ($60.65)
As one of the most recognizable bubblies on the shelf, Madame Cliquot’s workhorse wine needs to be reliable. And it is. Made with the juice from over 60 different crus and a red-dominant grape blend (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier account for almost 70 per cent), its ripe berry filling oozes consistency. Lightly yeasty on the nose, it draws its long, lasting impressions from white fruits like pear and lemon that gain support from a lingering nuttiness and a frothy effervescence.
Henriot Blanc Souverain ($76.73)
Henriot blends its Blanc Souverain old-school by passing on Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir and constructing the wine from 100 per cent Chardonnay fruit. Aromatically, it shows more of a nutty, toasty influence with a clean whiff of bright citrus. It’s a luxurious sparkler with a deep, thick flavour hinting at more citrus, ripe lemons and a light honeyed aspect tickled by a wave of cleansing acidity.
Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial ($64.60)
Though the blend is built on a foundation of Pinot Noir, the addition of a sugar dosage to the Nectar increases the sweetness level just enough to make it a standout mouth-filler without going over the top. It’s an aromatic wonder that offers a fresh fragrance of toast, raisins and vanilla leading the way to a palate layered with honey, melon and soft tropical fruit. A great wine to match with sweeter desserts, fresh fruit and light- to medium-bodied cheeses.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut ($55.45)
Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir fruit chosen from 50 different vineyards, along with some selected juice from older vintages, pack this Piper with a berry-fruit punch that starts off jammy and tapers to a subtle whisper. Look for ripe, breaded aromas and a touch of honey and citrus flexing their muscles at the core of its textured flavour expression.
Champagne de Saint Gall Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut ($49.95)
Blanc de Blancs equals 100 per cent Chardonnay in Champagne and Saint Gall brings together wines from only premier cru vineyards to produce this well-rounded, deeply perfumed sparkler. Aging on the lees for two to three years before release injects the juice with a refreshing zing and nicely balanced acidity. It gives the creamy flow of citrus-infused fruit a welcome boost while keeping its memory on the palate for what seems like a week and a half.