Champagne is delicious. This is very important. It’s scrumptious and magnificent. We love its flavour, we love its fizziness.
We love the sense of drama and celebration it brings to any occasion. Champagne Day is an opportunity to celebrate champagne itself, and to think about what to buy for the festive season.
I’ve been hooked on wine since I was 12 and taking my first sips of rosé from my mum’s glass at my grandfather’s house near Beziers.
I remember thinking, ‘Why, if this is made from grapes, does it smell and taste of raspberries?’ That stuck with me – how do you metamorphose those flavours? It was the first time I realised I had a perceptive palate, and affinity with flavour.
I wasn’t academic at all. I left school at 16 to enrol on a chef’s course near Edinburgh. A wine expert with a big red nose, and probably a hangover, came to talk to us and explained the role of wine in food.
That was a turning point: I was so excited that I left the kitchen behind to study wine, and I’ve never stopped.
At Villeneuve’s basement shop in Broughton Street I sold countless bottles of sparkling wine to customers wanting to celebrate Friday nights as well as life’s milestones.
But it wasn’t until I started as a sommelier at the double Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London that I had the chance to taste some of the world’s most exquisite and expensive champagnes, and a passion for life really started.
The clientele was discerning and could easily spend thousands on lunch, so I had to be at the top of my game.
They were always surprised to hear me speak because they were expecting a French or Italian accent, and instead heard a Scottish one. I was one of only two Brits working in the restaurant, and the first Scottish sommelier.
I still taste and talk about wine all day every day, but in a very different environment. Moving into buying for retail and restaurants requires a different skillset, but it’s equally fast-paced, demanding, creative and attention to detail is just as vital.
Now it’s not the Michelin inspectors I seek to impress, but the final customer who has just bought a bottle to take home and enjoy.
I have been wine development manager for the world’s second largest wine retailer (that’s Tesco), then Direct Wines, and I’m now champagne and Italian wine buyer for the world’s most famous vintner, Berry Bros and Rudd.
Earlier this year I was sworn into the Ordre des Couteaux du Champagne as a Chevalier – a very French, official fraternity of Champagne.
It respects, protects, promotes and celebrates all things Champagne. I had to knock back a full glass of champagne to show my commitment to the cause at the official ceremony!
Champagne is full of human stories. Barbe-Nicol Ponsardin was widowed before the age of 30 in the early 19th century.
With two young children and without experience or knowhow, she transformed her late husband’s wine company into the world’s bestselling champagne company: she was the Veuve Clicquot, a pioneer in the production and marketing of champagne.
We have never had so much choice in finding our favourite fizz. Many champagne makers have taken their trade all around the world, finding new methods, grapes and climates to produce fine examples from Australia, California, Canada and South America.
The English sparkling wine business is booming, five million bottles were made in the UK last year.
Many wines are now beating champagnes in blind tastings and awards, and it won’t be long before English sparkling wines on our Scottish shop shelves will be completely normal.
The UK is historically one of the largest markets for champagne and sparkling wine in the world. We love bubbles, from Irn Bru, to prosecco to champagne.
In choosing 101 bottles of fizz for the book, I have selected my 51 favourite champagnes. The other 50 are sparkling wines which I have discovered over 13 years in the wine industry, painstakingly tasting each and every bottle.
The vast majority of all champagne is bought in the eight weeks before Christmas. Now is the time to look out for offers in the supermarkets and wine retailers, as promotions and champagne campaigns are about to start.
I have two tips for champagne season, not on when you drink fizz, but how. If you have decent champagne on Champagne Day or at Christmas, don’t serve it too cold.
This hides the flavour, so you will enjoy it better if you let it sit on the table for 10 minutes before serving.
Finally, every bottle of champagne is at least two years old, and some are closer to 10.
Making champagne is one of the most complex, labour-intensive and time-consuming methods of making wine there is.
It would be a shame to undo all that time and hard work by not serving it correctly.
Please, do not drink good champagne out of flutes. The shape of these glasses actually restricts your enjoyment of the champagne, hiding all those delicious flavours which take so long to produce. Best keep to normal white wine glasses. Cheers!
This family-run producer is a fraction of the size of many other famous houses. What they lack in size, or marketing budgets, they deliver on quality and authenticity.
The current owners are sixth generation, and they taste every morning with their grandfather Jean Roland-Billecart, now in his mid 90s, still the boss in the blending room. Fizzy luminosity, very moreish and exceptional value.
£45, Harvey Nichols
The Berry Bros & Rudd own label champagne, known as ‘UKC’ is an authority of quality. Grown and aged carefully in the Grand Cru village of Mailly in the Montagne de Reims.
Golden crumb, toffee apple and vivacious minerality. This pinot noir-dominant blend offers terrific value, and enjoyment, whatever the occasion.
£28.50, Berry Bros & Rudd
If you are going to break the bank on a special bottle, do it properly. This is the newest Blanc des Millenaires release from new Chef du Cave, Cyril Brun.
The Charles Heidsieck house style is full of pizzazz, flair and confidence. I can say hand-on-heart, this wine is worth every single penny.
The depth of flavour, layers of complexity and drinkability mean this is drinking beautifully now, but will also benefit from additional ageing.
£149, The Whisky Exchange
Hands down, the best bang for buck, ‘champagne style’ wine there is on the UK market.
Toasty, fruity and deliciously fizzy. Hats off Aldi, you’ve played a blinder!
There is a tsunami of industrial prosecco available in the UK, but if you look do a little research you can find some real quality gems.
You will taste the difference. This spumante is made by passionate prosecco custodians, the Dal Bianco family in their gravity-fed winery in Treviso. Crisp, minerally and fresh as an alpine stream.
101 Champagnes and Other Sparkling Wines to Try Before You Die by Davy Zyw is published this month by Birlinn (£14.99, hbk)