The Real Life Fairy Tale Known as “Champagne”

You’ve likely seen it in liquor stores with the trademarked yellow/orange packaging.  You may have seen people slugging it in music videos or after big sports wins.  If you’re fortunate you may have even tried some of the famous Veuve Clicquot Champagne.  A couple weeks ago I attended an event held by the wonderful folks at iYellow Wine Club where we got to taste 5 different Veuve Champagne’s.  This is a rare treat, but what made it even better was it was hosted at the new Michaels Steakhouse on Simcoe Street, and our guest of honour was none other than the winemaker himself Pierre Casenave.

First let’s clarify that  Clicquot makes Champagne.  True Champagne.  Not simply ‘sparkling wine’.  Blending varying amounts of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, these are complex wines with layers upon layers of flavour and structure making Veuve one of the most famous producers of Champagne in the world.  They were the first to produce a rose Champagne back in the 1800’s and today are one of the most recognizable Champagnes houses around the world.  That rich history alone makes them an impressive producer.  In fact the company actually dates back to the late 1700’s with the original winemaker being the widow (Veuve means window in French) Clicquot.  After her husband passed away she started the winery and though it is corporately owned today, they seem to hold on to that rich history.  In fact as stories go Veuve may have the greatest wine one I have ever heard.

In July 2010 a shipwreck was discovered in the Baltic Sea somewhere between Finland and Sweden.  Divers searching the wreck quite literally discovered treasure, over 100 bottles of Vintage Champagne dating back over 200 years.  After much analysis dozens of the bottles were proven to belong to Veuve Clicquot.  Champagne nearly two centuries old and made by Mrs. Clicquot herself! Buried in the depths of the Baltic Sea the wine didn’t spoil.  It was on it’s side, well sealed, there was no sunlight, the perfect humidity, and the perfect temperature. It was in fact the perfect wine cellar.  Of all the bottles discovered many remained in the hands of the Finnish government and many went up for auction fetching prices in the tens of thousands per bottle.  Two bottles however made it back to Veuve.  Of those two one remains on site in the winery museum and the second one was actually opened for a private tasting just this past June.  The Vintage Champagne dated 1814 was lined up against 4 of Veuves best vintage Champagnes of the past century and tasted by exclusive company.  Can you imagine? It’s a real life wine fairy tale! I’m happy enough just having met someone who was part of that tasting panel.  As for the 1814, Pierre described it as having distinct flavours of yeast, toast, and honey.  However even more surprising, and impressive really, he described it as still being “fresh”. Truly unbelievable.

The Bar at Michaels on Simcoe

Veuve Clicquot Non Vintage Yellow Label Brut

So good story right? But what about the wine we tried. We went through 5 of Veuves Champagnes (unfortunately all dated in the 21st century) including The Brut, The Brut Rose, The Demi Sec (semi sweet), The vintage Brut 2004, and the Vintage Brut 2004 Rose.  For me these are a bit tough to rate because all were fantastic, well balanced and complex wines. All would be over 90 points on a 100 point scale.  My personal favourite was the vintage 2004 Brut, and the non vintage Brut Rose.  Ever so slightly better than the rest, they showed the most depth of flavour and were probably the best food pairing wines of the group.

But compared to many I am far from a Champagne loyalist, and many, many, of those do exist.  I have actually been publicly critical of the prices for Champagne.  The range of wine we tried started at $70 and ended at $120 per bottle.  As someone who often writes about value with the perspective of the everyday consumer, that is tough to manage for most.  But I can tell you that I learned something. Unless you are part of the aforementioned Champagne loyalist family, you should keep one bottle of Champagne in your fridge or cellar at all times.  I would highly recommend that one bottle be Veuve as it is truly classic Champagne.  For one you should always have sparkling on hand for the right moment (no that’s not necessarily New Years Eve) and it’s a little known fact that most sparkling wine is actually meant to be consumed young including both Cava (Spain) and Prosseco (Italy).  So you can pay less for those but shouldn’t keep them around too long.  Champagne on the other hand you can keep around for a very long time, in fact good Champagne is some of the most age worthy wine ever produced. Secondly they are excellent food pairing wines so when you make a divine anniversary dinner you can have the double benefit of both serving bubbly and it being Champagne.  Finally let’s be honest, it’s Champagne.  What’s going to impress more than a bottle of the world’s foremost sparkling wine?  If your in the habit of keeping wine around you need to have your “out to impress” bottle on hand… Veuve Clicquot should be that bottle.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club, Michaels on Simcoe, and Veuve Clicquot, I was impressed.

- Mark
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