Writer and wine consultant Zeren Wilson on his (and Winston Churchill’s) favourite champagne, his most exciting new discovery, and how four glasses of a special fizz is the minimum allowance
What’s your favourite champagne for everyday drinking?
I’m pleased you asked me that, because champagne should indeed be for life, not just for Christmas—why limit our enjoyment of the finest sparkling wine on the planet to celebratory milestones and end-of-year shenanigans?
The first champagne I tasted (or rather, drank with glee) that made me go “woah!”, just after joining the wine trade, was Pol Roger White Foil. There was something about the poise, elegance, balance and effortless drinkability that instantly enchanted me: it’s still one of my favourite fizzes, still family owned, and is given added lustre by the history connecting this champagne house with Winston Churchill.
He became friends with the family after meeting Odette Pol-Roger at a luncheon, shortly after the liberation of Paris during the Second World War, later declaring it to be “the most drinkable address in the world”. Pol Roger later created Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill in his honour, a vintage champagne made only in the best years, from grapes grown in the top grand cru vineyards—it’s a real treat, certainly not for every day… for most of us.
Alternatively, I should also mention the excellent English sparkling that is being made, with exactly the same method as that used to make champagne. Ridgeview from Sussex, which I visited recently, is a great example. Cartwright Brothers has a few different cuvées on its shelves, which owner Richard brings in directly from them.
What’s your latest discovery?
The most recent champagne which felt like a great discovery was one called Camille Savès, a small family house based in the heart of the best named champagne village: Bouzy. They have 10 hectares of vines solely on the grand cru and premier cru vineyard sites, the finest classifications. Their Cuvée Carte Blanche (funnily enough, imported into the UK by a company of the same name) is the one to look out for: 75 per cent pinot noir, 25 per cent chardonnay. The dominance of pinot noir lends great structure and backbone to this classy drop.
What wine would you save for a special occasion?
Well, apart from the Pol Roger wine mentioned above, thinking BIG makes a statement of generosity, so a magnum (two bottles’ worth) is the way forward. I love the wines of Gosset, another fantastic house based in the grand cru village of Äy, with its own unique shaped bottle. Gosset has the distinction of being the oldest known producer of wine in champagne (not the fizzy stuff, that accolade is with Ruinart) with a history stretching back to 1584.
It has a distinctive style marked out by its relatively low dosage (final sugar addition which determines house style), and produces taut, finely boned wines of great elegance. I spotted a magnum at Borough Wines just this week, so go on, treat yourself—because you’re worth it. If you really want to go nuts (or make a big impression to those in the know), I spied Louis Roederer’s flagship Cristal on the shelves at Bedales for a cool £190—those sharing your bottle should be carefully vetted for suitability.
Who would you share it with?
Um, the ‘special’ bottles will be shared with my favourite family members… although I will fully expect (and secure) at least four glasses for myself. Anything less will require a back-up bottle of some description.
Favourite match with food?
Champagne’s naturally high acidity means it’s instantly in a very good place for being appreciated with food, that perky acidity slicing through the richness of smoked salmon, chunks of parmigiano reggiano (The Ham and Cheese Company has helped me out on this front many times), as well as coping with the persistent briny tang of oysters: there is something ineffable about the combination of oysters and champagne… it’s almost eerie. Magically perfect.