This week I am

enjoying Champagne, and learning a lot about it and my own tastes. I’ve always thought I preferred chardonnay-based champagnes, as in blanc de blancs, as in Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, which I adore. www.taittinger.com  It’s fine, elegant, beautiful to drink.  But then I find another favourite, the Laurent Perrier rose, is entirely pinot noir. For many rose champagnes, the colour comes with the addition of some red wine. But the Laurent Perrier gets its colour (and aroma, and flavours) from pinot noir. The colour is extracted from the skins, by maceration. The timing is critical: they used to say the cellar master slept near the vats so he could get the timing exactly right. www.laurentperrier.com/en/

And then, just when I think I’ve got my tastes sorted out, along comes Charles Heidsieck, full, round, gorgeous. www.charlesheidsieck.com/en

As they say in Champagne, it’s all about the mood you’re in. Sometimes you want one style, sometimes another.

What does strike me, after visiting various houses, is that – given the time and expertise involved – champagne isn’t really expensive. Most good champagne takes four or five years, the vintage champagnes seven or eight, and some even longer, before they are bottled and sold.

The other thing I love about champagne are those amazing cellars, particularly in Taittinger and Charles Heidsieck, which start with the Romans quarrying out stone for building. Huge underground spaces, cathedral-sized, that were forgotten about for centuries, rediscovered sometime in the late middle ages, used a few centuries later for cool storage and mushroom growing. Just add tunnels to connect them, and voila! the network of underground tunnels and cellars that house millions of bottles.

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