The Senior Wine List
Oscar Wilde said "only the unimaginative can fail to find a reason for drinking champagne.” The Senior says that a reason seems like far to serious a necessity - just remove the foil. twist the muselet six turns, pop the cork, pour and enjoy. Better yet, if you have a sabre start chopping heads.
Lanson Black Label
To uncork champagne is to celebrate that life is good and full of promise. As an optimist I drink as much champagne as anything else. The chilled bottle of champagne anticipating the arrival of friends into our home, whilst Louis and Ella sing softly in the background is one of life’s great stock moments — Mrs Senior is not a jazz fan so views this quite differently — one thing we agree on however is the champagne. When not entertaining, opening a bottle to simply enjoy over the course of an evening (or over breakfast) is another great joy and has to be recommended. Churchill was famously a great fan of champagne — Pol Roger being his own preference. Drinking a bottle of any good champagne to yourself will have you feeling ready to “fight them on the beaches” too. My house champagne is Lanson Black Label. Lanson produce a notably fresh style, shunning any malolactic fermentation, and using a high content of Pinot Noir in the blend. Whereas Churchill’s Pol Roger White Foil — an excellent champagne — is quite evenly balanced in its make-up, being a blend of a third Chardonnay, a third Pinot Noir and a third of Pinot Meunier, Black label is instead made up of around half of the Noir stuff. Commendably, Lanson are fairly unique in that they print clear disgorgement dates on their bottles, allowing any consumer to see when any particular bottle received its final cork. A tip I learnt from wine-writer Hugh Johnson is to keep champagne in the cellar for two years prior to drinking which obviously goes some way to creating new layers of flavour. In Lanson the crisp fruit freshness becomes complemented by biscuity notes. One of the other major advantages with Lanson is that, in the UK at least, it is one of the most frequently discounted Grand Marques — when this happens buy all you can afford. Given that each bottle will only improve with age, to not do so is like admitting that you’ll never drink champagne again. If you don’t succumb then one has descended into a life of pessimism — you may as well give up now. Even if you can’t afford it at the time then buy it anyway and get yourself a lottery ticket with the change.
Lanson Black Label cellared for two years served as an aperitif with almonds.
Bollinger, La Grand Annee
It doesn’t matter how blessed your life has been, even the best life is recounted as a series of milestones — individual moments in time when an occasion or event interrupted the commonplace. Fittingly perhaps good vintage champagne represents the essence of these times. This is the wine to provide rich flavour to those events; your first kiss (if you happen to be a child genius with an appropriate maturity and purse to match), to savour at your wedding, to toast the birth of your children, to toast at family feasts that you never want to forget. My long-suffering wife will be drinking it at my funeral no doubt, and who could blame her. I’ll be drinking it too wherever I am at the time.
Typically champagne, unlike normal red or white still wines, which naturally differ in quality from vintage to vintage, is a blended creation more like a fine cognac. The producer’s intention being to create a consistent recognisable product each year regardless of the merits or detriments of the harvest. A champagne house will want to maintain their particular taste and character from vintage to vintage. If you love a certain champagne then each bottle should be like meeting a good friend again. A vintage champagne, which the champenois only produce in very good years, should be like meeting that same friend after he’s just returned from a holiday in which by some happy circumstance he was temporarily marooned on an island with the Swedish women’s beach volleyball team. Another advantage of vintage champagne is that it often includes a higher percentage of fruit from the best Grand Cru vineyards and, like the Lanson in my home, it also tends to undergo additional ageing making it more imbued with the fine witticism that comes with wisdom as well as being all smiles.
My favourite vintage champagne is Bollinger La Grand Annee. Bollinger as a house with its use of oak, fermentation in magnum, and solid holdings in the Marne, all very respectful of a proud sense of tradition and good manners, represents my own aspirations best. Your own life could be a Pol Roger, a Perrier Jouet, a Louis Roederer. Here however is the joy of champagne and indeed any wine; each person should invest a good portion of their life to finding the house that matches them best.
Bollinger's recently released 2008 is apparently stunning. I like my champagne with some bottle age however so would currently enjoy the 2002 or 1996 alongside Petrossian caviar on plain crisps. Served with fried sage leaves.
Krug, Grand Cuvee
A sommelier in the Connaught once told me that he thought that the brilliance of Krug was down to controlled use of brettanomyces. Brett is a dirty word in the wine world due to its association with for cork taint. Until that point I’d always considered Krug like a Puligny-Montrachet — all Grace Kelly elegance in sparkling form — to hear this quip therefore was a bit like hearing some hack reporter announce that Kelly's prim, proper, perfect Tracey Lord had a penchant for sodomy. I have since spent some time with Krug although I’ve not got to know her as fully as I’d like — she’s generally got me wonderfully inebriated in such a manner that I’ve been far too elated to ponder yeast control. Whilst she undoubtedly has the fine manners of a Harvard graduate she does have a bewitching look in her deep green eyes and bites her bottom lip in a manner that suggests that she may have majored in the works of Marquis de Sade. Perhaps however it’s simply the fact that it contains a much higher ratio of Pinot Meunier than other champagnes but there’s a depth and complexity to Krug that is both staunchly traditional and yet strangely libertine, as a result it is undoubtedly the most educational champagne you will drink. It is often so luxuriant that it will make you blush. Redolent of Perigord truffles, vicuña bedding and Hermes leather — hedonistic to extremes. If champagne is at all sybaritic then Krug is its ultimate expression.
Warrant keeper to the upper-class Mark Birley would open a fresh bottle at his South Kensington home every day, Jeffrey Archer would notably have it poured at parties for Tory grandees in his wonderful apartment overlooking to the Thames. If the general public criticize the luxury of millionaires then they do so frequently out of jealousy as much as anything else. If Krug is exclusive it is not out of reach. In the current world even the best luxuries are attainable if only temporarily. Similarly to fact that anyone can stay at the Ritz Paris if they can afford the mere financial outlay, for the £150/$150/150 that Krug cost currently anyone can experience the life of a millionaire for next to nothing. I’ve met many millionaires and the wealth can for some seem to weigh one down as much as liberate. With a purchase of Krug, for a respective song, you can experience the life of a millionaire without any of the distractions and burdens. In that respect Krug is perhaps the best value wine in the world.
Whilst Clos Ambonnay, Mesnil and vintage Krug are wonderful exercises in soaring singular purity. The real quality of Krug is more exuberant in their wonderful Grande Cuvee. Open a bottle and enjoy with truffled eggs Benedict-style with hollandaise on brioche toast with ibérico ham and manchego cheese. Perfect for a morning after a night of debauchery.
For some more serious education on champagne I can't recommend Peter Liem's "Champagne" highly enough. Perhaps the best book published on the subject.
For great champagne stockists in the UK, beyond wine institutions Berry Bros and Hedonism Wines, look to Clos 19 and the Finest Bubble