Gather a group of girlfriends, a hot date or even your mum and attend Belinda Aucott’s private champagne appreciation evening next Tuesday night.
A journalist and media consultant with over 10 years of experience, this bubbly aficionado knows a thing or two about clinking glasses. During her career she has worked in Sydney, London, Paris and Milan writing for publications such Fashion Wire Daily, GQ, Oyster, Mens Style, Penthouse, Australian Creative, Indesign, Design Quarterly and Design Taxi. Stylish, much? She has also held the position of Online Editor for Habitusliving, FHM, Marie Claire and Home Beautiful.
Since 2004 however, Belinda has been a total Champagne tragic, spearheading her blog and hosting fabulous champagne appreciation events. As a an (ex) sparking wine devotee, I had to grill her about the benefits of upgrading to Champagne for good – what makes champagne it so scandalous, fabulous and – as it turns out, anti-aging.
REVIEWED: How did you become such a Champagne aficionado?
Belinda Aucott: I’ve always written about food and wine, but luck and geography played a part in my discovery of Champagne and the beginning of Champagne Republic. I’ve lived in France and I travelled to London to work as a sommelier for Marco Pierre White. I’ve also worked as a wine educator for Berringer Blass after completing my journalism degree, so I’m really drilling down into an area I am passionate about.
What do some people feel intimidated by Champagne?
People worry that they will look foolish if they say what they think when tasting Champagne. But they should think about Champagne like making love or meeting a new person – it is a dialogue. Go for what attracts you and drink from what you love.
What do you notice when appraising Champagne?
The first thing I look for is colour. Pale straw, warm gold, pink, deep gold, strawberry blonde – the colour always varies. Then I look for the aromas; as much as I can find in the bouquet before I sip. While drinking, I look for the way it sits in the mouth. Like a beautiful couture dress, I pay attention to where it clings, where it floats and the impression it leaves behind. Some Champagne leaves a long, alluring trail…
How did Champagne gain its status as a ‘special occasion’ drink?
From politics and literature to fashion and hip-hop, Champagne is a modern symbol of transformation and a social emblem for change. This is because it was originally exported from France on horseback to the royal courts of Russia and Britain, so it grew from there to become an elite commodity associated with regal life. It’s interesting that Champagne still represents a personal move from competitor to winner, from defender to champion, from outlaw to leader, from hoodlum to superstar. We see at The America’s Cup, The Australian Open, and The Grand Prix – at our Spring racing carnivals and also in the fashion and art world. From World Cup battles, military warfare and personal milestones, to births, deaths and marriages – Champagne is still a potent symbol of transformation, change and milestone.
You are running a Champagne appreciation workshop on October 21st. What do you hope to impart to attendees?
I hope to instil a spirit of adventure and set people forth into the wonderful wine world. People who attend will feel empowered by making some very simple discoveries about pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. I hope to encourage people to venture outside of the normal parameters of the big brands and try some of the smaller grower-producer Champagnes that have captured my heart. Also I aim to impart confidence in selecting, ordering, serving, tasting and gifting Champagne to friends and family.
What is the difference between Champagne and sparking? And how can we tell the difference in a blind taste test?
Champagne can only be made in the region of Champagne and is a delicate wine, known for its lithe and youthful qualities. It prized the world over for its effervescence and purity. In order to make Champagne under optimal conditions for quality, harvesting takes place in the strictly controlled manner. Champagne follows the rules of the Appellation and is very strictly controlled at all stages of its manufacture. The timing of the harvest for example is determined by Association Viticole Champenoise and Champagne grapes are picked by human hands.
All other wine made outside of Champagne is a version of a sparkling style – like the Prosecco style made in Italy or Cava made in Spain. It will taste, by my comparison – more simple, light and shorter. It will be fruitier, sweeter and thinner than French Champagne and it will lack complexity. It will not feature as much natural yeast character. It might have larger bubbles (a coarser bead) and it perhaps won’t have that lovely mineral chalk flavour that comes from the expression of the white soil in Champagne.
AB: You really know your stuff! Why are some bottles of Champagne upwards of $900?
BA: Scarcity has long been associated with luxury. Rarity and scarcity pushes the prices up, as do factors like the name of the House is comes from, the reputation of the Chef de Cave, the way it was made and how long it is stored underground. People will pay more for rare gems, crystals, cloth and spice – and vintage Champagne gets expensive, pretty quickly too. Any wine that is made in extremely small quantities will become more expensive. For example, the Champagne made at the Krug Clos Du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs vineyards is from 100% chardonnay grapes grown in an ancient, enclosed walled 4.5 acre 17th century vineyard. This is one of the most exalted Blanc De Blancs – a sort of Champagne holy grail. If you drank this on the deck at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como you might find it rather appropriately priced. And chances are, that you would also remember the flavour and that precise magic moment long after the price tag was forgotten.
AB: What is something sexy or exciting you can tell us about Champagne?
BA: Champagne is probably one of the most beautifully mysterious substances in the world. It’s ephemeral and it is alive! Perrier Jouët was the favourite Champagne of Sarah Bernhardt, who is reported to have bathed in it. This behavior is hardly surprising from a woman who slept in a coffin! Champagne is also reported to be the only drink in the world to make a woman more beautiful after drinking it. That quote is attributed to Madame Pompadour.
AB: What is your favourite drop and why?
BA: I love them all. Pol Roger, Bolly, Dom and Krug. But I am also attracted by the small grower-producer Champagnes that show great expression of the local soil. The chalky, mineral or flinty characters you sometimes get on the good ones. I love Jacquesson (baby Krug), Elgy Ouriet, Agrapart et Fils and Larmandier Bernier. A lot of these are grown very naturally in organic and biodynamic conditions. They are very elegant and natural wines that generally quite low in sugar, they don’t give you a hangover because they don’t have lots of additives.
AB: What improvements can one notice in their life if they were to drink champagne daily?
Health wise it is very good for you. In moderation it makes you happy. You get the same benefits from Champagne as you would red wine. New research shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
Dr Jeremy Spencer, from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences said: “Our research has shown that drinking around two glasses of Champagne can have beneficial effects on the way blood vessels function, in a similar way to that observed with red wine. We always encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, but the fact that drinking Champagne has the potential to reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, is very exciting news.”
Exciting indeed. Tickets for next Tuesday night are almost sold out, so make sure you score the lucky few remaining today.