Despite everything that’s going on in the world, get tickets now to Tyson Stelzer’s legendary Taste Champagne London. If you can’t do this year, do next year. Despite all the other stuff that was going on before the new bad thing, people who need good wine should head to 67 Pall Mall, the wine club, because it’s brought back in-person tastings in all its branches – London, Singapore, Verbier and Beaune. In London, I attended a blind tasting between Champagne and English Sparkling Wine, a sort of wine-based Fight Club featuring four pairs chosen by Richard Bampfield MW to tangle our tastebuds. As we slurped and spat, an experienced wine buyer next to me said, “I thought this was champagne!” I tutted in a condescending way and blamed his long COVID. But in truth, English Sparkling Wines are growing up with the same speed as my mates’ former children: snot-nosed tykes of yore blossoming into serious contenders. Hambledon Premiere Cuvee, Hundred Hills Blanc de Blancs 2017, Roebuck Rose de Noirs Brut 2016, Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015 (2013 if you can find it) won my palate. If you want to taste all of these, along with admittedly delicious Champagne competitors including a favourite Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, they are served at 67 Pall Mall. (Membership is required or a friend who is a member or maybe being a weasel.)
“You should start stocking up on champagne,” his French accent gets heavier, “because supply is going down and prices are going up.”
My docile local wine merchant is a little scary lately. “You should start stocking up on champagne,” his French accent gets heavier, “because supply is going down and prices are going up.” Even kids know buying by the case makes more financial sense than single bottles but not all of us want a case. Nick Baker of The Finest Bubble, a company which can deliver a bottle anywhere in London within two hours, agrees. “Supplies are low, and prices are rocketing as many new markets are opening up round the world. So, with interest in Champagne increasing, vintage champagne will remain in tight supply, exaggerated at the vintage and prestige cuvee level.”
Well, there is always by the glass, right? On a trip to Hartwell House, it’s obvious to me that fine Georgian plasterwork and crystal chandeliers are designed to make one thirsty. Luckily, Hartwell manager Kevin Hughes has crafted an informed but not scary list of champagnes and sparkling wines with two nice ones by the glass. Champagne Brut V Testulat Blanc de Noirs Carte d’Or NV (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Meunier at 8 g/l) is robust enough for dinner but light enough for an opening snifter. Hartwell House also embraces what appears to be a first vintage of the local ESW Dinton Folly, with its adorable label saying the sparkling wine is made from classic grapes grown near Dinton Folly castle overlooking the Chilterns. In true ESW style, it’s appley with fresh allure and a slightly lower alcohol of 11.5%.
And so to the Berlinale 2022 Film Festival and a first-night dinner at the legendary Café Einstein Stammhaus, Berlin’s weinerschntizel himmel and a place so evocative that Quentin Tarantino filmed a pivotal ‘Inglourious Basterds’ scene in its dark red library. Legras Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs by the glass is a good solid choice considering the menu of fried and breaded meats, light as they are, and traditional sweet strudels. With a proper warm brioche waft, it’s dry, straightforward, not too noisy. Each sip brings the chardonnay forward with a relatively long finish. Aged in the cellars for five to six years, this bottle has a low dosage between 0 and 3 g/l, so its lack of sweetness is the perfect foil. Meet me in Bar Lebensstern, their Berlin-chic upstairs drinkery, at Berlinale 2023 and I’ll buy you a glass.
When I returned to America’s Midwest for Christmas 2021, I was greeted to my first – and last – holiday party of 2021 with, “What would you like to drink?” It had been a long flight from Heathrow to O’Hare and I muttered “zero dosage champagne” in a fever dream of disbelief that I had actually made the journey. My hosts, magical people, floored me with a memorable Pascal Mazet NV. It’s a 45% Meunier, 25% Noir, 30% Chardonnay blend at 0.3g/l, and aged on lees for nine years with fruit from Premier Cru vines organically converted. Its tangy minerality and toasted bold brioche notes didn’t fight with the creamy spicy beef jerky dip and hot juicy Swedish meatballs I’d gulped upon arrival in our hosts’ magnificent Christmas grotto. My hosts’ cellar had additional stock from natural wine supplier Dry Farms Wines (not available in the UK) of Lalarge Pugeot 2009 and 2013 Emotion Giaffe-Brun Premier Cru Champagne but that Pascal Mazet NV, oh you. For sure, no wine like this was ever served in the history of Illinois because if it had been, I would have never left. C