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Jiles Halling's Blog

Jiles spent 10 years living and working in Champagne working for Moet et Chandon.

During that time, Jiles built up a vast amout of knowledge about all things bubbly, making lots of contacts in the region, and getting to know the people who've lived there for centuries while crafting their products with love and passion.

After moving back to the UK in late 2004, Jiles decided to bring this unique knowledge and contribution to the wider world.  The hidden secrets, the best champagnes and the insider knowledge that is not usually available through the normal channels, is now here for you.  Since March 2010, Jiles is once again based in Champagne, living in the small grand cru village of Verzy.

In this you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about champagne, the drink, the people, the region and the food.  Please enjoy your visit and please join in the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments section or liking us on Facebook.


 

Harvest-dates2014The CIVC has recently published the start dates for the imminent harvest in Champagne. The document is long, detailed and apparently holds nothing of much value or interest to anyone who is not a vine grower or wine maker, but if you know what to look for this seemingly boring list can reveal lots of clues to help you understand the diversity to be found n this fascinating region

 

 Part 2 

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

Roaring-TwentiesChampagne, like the rest of the world, breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the First World War in anticipation of good times to come and on the whole things did get better. The famous Roaring Twenties were a time of energy renewal

Reims which had been so badly damaged by the bombardments during the war was largely rebuilt during this period and the early 1930s giving a distinct art nouveau style to the centre of the city. Above all people were producing and drinking champagne again but the picture was far from uniformly promising and the future of champagne continued to be something of a roller coaster ride.

Crises and Opportunities. The history of Champagne 1900 – 2014

Part 1

The early years

LaBelleEpoque-450x656There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Champagne being in crisis: sales are in decline and other sparkling wines are grabbing some of the limelight, but it’s not the first time that champagne has faced a few challenges as a look back at the history of the past 100 years or so will show us. It’s a fascinating story of highs and lows, of war and peace, of the early dominance of the Grandes Marques and the rise of cooperatives and Grower Champagnes.

I wrote this reply in response to an article that recently appeared in Euromonitor suggesting that there are hard times ahead for champagne

http://blog.euromonitor.com/2014/07/champagne-and-problems-bubbling-beneath-the-surface-post-recession-sales-declines-and-sparkling-win.html

Read the article on the link above then read my reply below and finally please let me know which side of the argument you come down on

All the best from Champagne,

Jiles

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It is undeniable that sales of champagne have been sluggish for a number of years , however I do not share your pessimistic view of the future for champagne and in my view almost all the points you raise can be interpreted in the opposite way to that which you put forward.

The economic picture:

You state that the recent sales of champagne in France are “an ominous reflection of the collapse in consumer confidence and discretionary income in the country. “

I agree ( apart from the use of the word ‘ominous’ which is, I suggest, a subjective interpretation), but there is nothing in this statement to suggest that champagne per se has lost its appeal and no reason, based on the argument you put forward, to assume that, as has happened time and time again in the past, a better economic environment will not result is more buoyant sales of champagne.

It is also correct to say that the majority of champagne sales are made in Western Europe, but on what basis do you describe this area as being “terminally depressed”?

Without wishing to belittle the difficulties still faced by many economies in Europe and the undoubted shift towards Asia Pacific it is a considerable leap from there to the acceptance that the economic climate in Western Europe will never improve and therefore that sales of champagne will never improve. Furthermore it’s a leap for which no evidence is provided in the article.

Volume or Value

Let’s look at some of the other challenges facing champagne:

It’s true that sales of sparkling wines other than champagne are increasing strongly, Prosecco probably being the being the obvious example. You mention that, according to Euromonitor, the growth rate for champagne in “2013-2018 is expected to be 1%. Other sparkling wines will see double that.” However, is competing for sales volume really where champagne makers should be focussing their attention?

Of course champagne producers would like to see more robust growth, but champagne is and I believe will remain, the pre-eminent sparkling wine of the world and rather than obsessing about sales volume I think there is an equally credible argent that says champagne should accept a slower growth rate than other sparkling wines and concentrate on generating value for both consumers and producers alike.

Yes there are many excellent sparkling wines being made in other regions of the world, but none of them come even close to the brand imagery and positioning of champagne which has been acquired over the course of 250 years thanks, in great part, to the work of the CIVC despite, as you correctly point out, some periods of complacency.

If one takes the case of Prosecco: the biggest threat to champagne in terms of volume, it is not made in the same way as champagne, it is not made from the same grapes, it does not have the same taste as champagne and it is certainly not sold for the same price as champagne. The main thing is has in common with champagne is that it they both have bubbles and people like to celebrate with bubbles.

It is a perfectly tenable argument, in my view, to say that when people have sufficient disposable income, whether they be in Western Europe, New York or Shanghai, they will want to celebrate with the most prestigious bubbles they can buy and that means champagne.

To abandon the ‘elitist positioning’ which you suggest is a point of weakness, in favour of chasing volume would, I suggest, be a short term fix and a catastrophic error of judgement in the longer term.

Adversity leads to Innovation

I don’t want to give the impression that I believe that the champenois can simply rest on past glories and smugly assume that all will be well and that no changes are required, far from it, but to suggest that this is what is actually happening would be a gross misrepresentation of what is going on in Champagne.

You talk of ‘rigid conservatism’ in Champagne and it is true that it is a region steeped in tradition where things change slowly – admittedly too slowly sometimes, but the champenois are very well aware of ‘the facts’ as regards sales volumes and the many other facets of the world wine trade and things are changing. Indeed you mention quite a few examples of innovation in your article.

Are these new ideas all perfect?

Probably not.

Will one or more of them turn out to be the key to reviving sales?

Again probably not, but they are indicative of a level of innovation and can hardly be described as ‘rigid conservatism’.

It’s my belief that what you will find bubbling under for champagne are lots of exciting times rather than doom and gloom.

A note of caution

Whilst I can’t agree with the second half of M. Taittinger’s quip that champagne’s greatest threat comes not from other sparkling wines but from Viagra, I do think he has a point in the first half of his statement.

Far more worrying than the threat from other sparkling wines would be a trend towards beer and spirits and away from wine which seems to be what is happening in the USA according to a recent Gallup survey. That would be a far more difficult trend to counter, but it is a debate for another day.

Oiry-Grand-Cru640If you see the words Grand Cru or Premier Cru on the label of a bottle of champagne it’s very likely that you will assume that what’s inside the bottle is of a superior quality to a champagne that does not display either of these terms. Over the years the terms have become popular as easy-to-understand reference points for quality, but ( I‘m sorry to have to tell you this) since 2010 neither Grand Cru, nor Premier Cru has existed officially in Champagne.

 

Robert ParkerWhether you like them or hate them, find them useful or useless, it is hard to deny that over the past 20 years or so the medals and scores given to wine by some recognised authorities have had a significant impact on the sales of the wines in questions, but what of the future? Will Parker points’ continue to be influential and of not, what, if anything will replace them?

How has the role of the wine critic changed over the last few years?  What, if any, power does Robert Parker or publications such as Wine Spectator hold in the wine business today?

Here’s a very interesting article on this very subject written by Phillip Anderson on his blog

Real Men Drink Rosé

http://realmendrinkrose.wordpress.com/

Hope you enjoy the read

All the Best from Champagne

Jiles

Get-Chalky225April is Champagne is becoming something of an institution.

It all started a few years ago when a few of the leading and most forward thinking amongst the smaller champagne makers formed an association called Terres et Vins de Champagne. http://www.terresetvinsdechampagne.com/en/index.htm

Does Size Matter?

Fine-bubbles-at-De-Sousa225One of the most common assumptions people make about champagne is that small bubbles are a sign of a good quality, as if a champagne with small bubbles is somehow superior to the others.

There’s a grain of truth in this, but as with so many things, it’s is a bit of an over-simplification and is not a reliable way to judge the quality of one champagne compared to another.

For one thing it is nigh on impossible, with the naked eye, to tell the difference between the size of the bubbles in one glass of champagne compared with another. That’s because there isn’t much difference, if indeed there is any difference at all, between champagnes of the same type, for example non-vintage champagnes.

Why is that? Well, all champagne must be made following the same rules and regulations and if this is done competently, which it almost always is, the result will inevitably be small bubbles.

That is not necessarily true for some other sparkling wines. For example, Prosecco is made by a different process to champagne, a process which is cheaper and produces larger bubbles, so in that sense small bubbles are indeed a mark of quality, but only between sparkling wines made by the traditional method, as in champagne, and those made by some other method.

There is however one crucial factor that does influence the size of the bubbles and to understand a little more about that let’s return to what Professor Liger-Belair of Reims University had to say on the subject in a recent interview.

"The age of the Champagne is a parameter of importance," Liger-Belair says. Corks do not provide an absolute seal, so some CO2 escapes over the years and as the pressure inside the bottles slowly decreases, so too will the size of the bubbles. As professor Liger-Belair says: "Old champagnes show small bubbles because of their age."

So there you have it. Smaller bubbles are an indication of greater age, rather than superior quality per se.

The More The Merrier?

What about the amount of bubbles. Does more bubbles mean better champagne?

Well here again it really comes down to personal preference and to what type of champagne you prefer, or the occasion demands.

What is certain is that the amount of bubbles depends entirely on the amount of dissolved CO2 in the wine. When champagne is bottled yeast and sugar are added to provoke the second fermentation which creates the bubbles. The amount of sugar added is 24 grams of sugar per litre of wine which is a ratio that has been proven to produce 6 atmospheres of pressure inside the bottle.

As we saw earlier however, the bottle is never a perfectly sealed and some CO2 always escapes. The reduction in pressure as the bottle ages in the cellar means not only that the bubbles will be smaller, but that there will be fewer of them too.

So a young, fresh non vintage champagne will have more bubbles than a mature old vintage champagne, but that’s OK because the first is meant for happy occasions on high days and holiday when most people are paying more attention to the celebration than studying the size or number of the bubbles, whilst the vintage champagne is for quieter moments when you have time to linger and appreciate the subtle nuances of the champagne which may well include characteristics of the bubbles.

You get the same loss of bubbles when you open the bottle except that the loss of CO2 will be much faster. Even if you put a topper in a bottle that is not empty, that doesn’t help a great deal – the champagne is still losing fizz fast.

"Inevitably, the second time the Champagne will be served, its level of dissolved CO2 will be less than the first time," Liger-Belair says.

Cramant or Crémant

Cramant225If you prefer a slightly less fizzy style of champagne then you may care to open the bottle and leave it open for half an hour, or so, before pouring it.

Alternatively there are still a very few champagnes to which a lower amount of sugar is added at the time of bottling. These champagnes have less pressure and fewer bubbles. They used to be called crémant, but the term has been discontinued in Champagne region, but if you search hard enough there are still a few producers who make this style.

Crémant should not be confused with the word Cramant which is the name of a Grand Cru village in la Côte des Blancs. Cramant was one of the first villages to be designated as Grand Cru and many commentators consider that it produces the finest Chardonnay grapes in Champagne.

All About The Bubbles – Part 1

Bubbles-at-Hure225Bubbles are part of the fun of drinking champagne and a good deal has been said and written about them. Some of this is fact and some of it is faction; in this article you’ll discover which is which.

Chouilly-mention225In Champagne more and more small producers are coming to the conclusion that a good way to add value and to differentiate themselves from each other, and from the big brands, is to emphasise their terroir. What better way to do this, according to these producers, than to put the name of the village of origin prominently the label?

However INAO (the French National Institute for Appellations d’Origines) is opposed to this, to the extent, if my understanding is correct, that they forbid the practice. The UMC (Union des Maisons de Champagne) which is the association for the larger brands, is also opposed.

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