Spring has finally landed and with it comes the Sydney Racing Carnival- the sport of kings. Whether you’re winning big or losing the shirt off your back it’s important to look the part. That means donning your best suit or frock and quaffing champagne ’til you feel like a winner, regardless of what your bank account tells you. Here are the top five Champagnes you should be drinking this Spring Carnival.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
Billecart-Salmon is a Champagne house located in the tiny village of Mareuil-sur-Ay, just to the East of Epernay and to the South of Reims. Although not a large producer, or a particularly well-known name, Billecart-Salmon has deservedly built up a reputation for crafting excellent non-vintage wines at a competitive price point. Brothers Francois and Antoine Roland-Billlecart keep the family tradition going strong, now safely in their hands after five successive generations. The Non-Vintage Brut Rose is something quite special, the persistent mousse and fine bubbles promising much in the glass. A pale salmon pink hue, the nose delivers red fruit and fresh pears. The palate is rich but balanced by chalky minerality and carries the unmistakable flavour of fresh strawberries, without being totally over the top in the fruit stakes. A classy example of a rose that would match perfectly with salmon sashimi.
Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2006
Perrier-Jouet have been crafting delightfully light and expressive wines for two centuries from their home in Epernay- the heart of the Champagne region. It is impossible to discuss Perrier-Jouet and not touch on the artistry of their hand-painted, Art Nouveau bottles, adorned with white Anemones, first painted by artist Emile Galle in 1902. The delicate flowers reflect the floral style of wine that PJ have risen to prominence producing. Their Belle Epoque range is Perrier-Jouet’s prestige label and the 2006 vintage is a stand out example. It features a rich, creamy palate with understated floral aromas. It maintains a fine mousse and has baked apples, white flowers and lemon blossom leading onto an infinitely long finish. Perhaps this is something of a sweeping statement but this style of Champagne often seems to find great appreciation amongst a female audience. Perhaps it is the delicate touch on the palate this wine has or the bottle itself which is so exquisite to behold. Either way, this is not a bargain option but can be cellared to improve with age or just popped open to celebrate your horse coming in.
Pol Roger Brut NV
Pol Roger was established in Epernay in 1849 and is still family owned. Perhaps best renowned as Winston Churchill’s fizz of choice, he is said to have remarked, “In victory deserve it, in defeat need it”. This stands as a counter-point to the aforementioned Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque with it’s delicate, feminine style. Pol Roger is aged for up to three times longer than other Champagnes in the cellar before disgorgement and bottling. This long, slow maturation period allows for complex aromas and flavours to develop that help this stand out from it’s contemporaries. It is predominantly Pinot Noir in the blend which helps give it more body as well. On the nose there are appealing aromas of mushrooms and toast giving way to hints of stone fruit. The palate has real heft and is decidedly creamy. The flavour is dominated by walnut with a smooth, buttery finish. A rich and masculine expression of Champagne that stands up against other, vintage offerings due to it’s extended cellaring. Well, if it’s good enough for Churchill…
Heidsieck and Co. Monopole Blue Top NV
Heidsieck and Co. have been producing Champagne in Reims since the mid 1700s. By 1895 the firm were already shipping over 1.5 million bottles worldwide and by 1911 they were appointed suppliers to the English court. Historical accolades aside, the brand has fallen out of favour more recently and unfairly so. This is a great example of an entry-level fizz, perhaps for when you win but don’t quite clean up on the horses. It’s popularity is slowly making a resurgence but this is still a relatively overlooked drop which seems somehow ironic given the vibrant yellow label and blue foil top adorning each bottle of the ‘Blue Top’ NV. Simply unmissable. Heidsieck’s Champagne features Pinot Noir in dominance (up to 70%) which lends it a little more intensity and depth on the palate. It’s toasty, buttery, bold and assertive and is balanced with citrus complexity.
Bollinger Special Cuvee NV
Rounding off our top five is a Champagne from one of the great producers of the region. Another Pinot Noir dominated wine and one where all the grapes are sourced from Grand Cru vineyards (in other words they are of the best quality). These factors make for a very full-bodied, muscular style of wine, bolstered by a first fermentation in oak barrels. James Bond has enjoyed various different vintages of Bollinger over the years with the ’69 first being name checked in the film adaptation of ‘Moonraker’. The house can trace their land-owning rights in the Champagne region back to the 16th century although was only established in the form that we now know in 1829. This is infinitely complex and enjoyable for a non vintage fizz.The wine itself is a delicate pale colour with a light and persistent mousse. There is a subtle hint of brioche on the nose. On the palate there are rich, honeyed, orchard fruit flavours with a long-lasting buttercream finish. Complex and classy. In the words of Madame Bollinger herself, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I’m thirsty.”
Regardless of how much you win during the races there is a Champagne here to suit every pocket. Bet smart, drink well, good luck folks!