Jiles's Blog

Who Am I?

17 years spent living and working in Champagne has allowed Jiles to build up a vast amount of knowledge about all things bubbly as well as a very extensive network of contacts, especially amongst the smaller and less well-known champagne makers whose champagnes will probably amaze you with their quality and diversity.

A job as area manager for Asia and Australia with Moët et Chandon was what first drew Jiles to Champagne after completing an MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC, a prestigious business school just outside Paris.

After nearly 9 years at Moët Jiles moved back to the UK where he started one of the first online businesses promoting and selling grower champagnes,

However the draw of ‘The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings’ once again proved irresistible and another 8 year stay in Champagne was the result. During this second stay in Champagne Jiles worked with the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de Champagne as an accedited consultant for small, independent champagne makers before setting up his own consultancy.

Jiles now spends his time between England and Champagne.and puts his knowledge and contacts to work helping wine lovers everywhere learn more about champagne and helping businesses and individuals to create their own private champagne brand.

He is the author of two books on champagne, several concise guides to champagne  and is the creator of an online champagne study course called My Champagne Expert

 


 

Are champagne flutes a thing of the past?

Are champagne flutes a thing of the past?

And does the question conceal a different challenge for Champagne?

If you go back far enough in history it seems that, even as long ago as the late 17th century when Champagne first appeared on the scene, there was a variety of shapes and sizes of glass to choose from. Short and stubby, tall and narrow, clear glass and opaque glass (that was common before riddling and disgorging had been perfected and champagne was often a bit murky). You could find them all.

Sometime later, perhaps around the time of Louis XVI, although some say rather earlier, the coupe glass made an appearance and, in one variation or another, the coupe remained popular through Victorian times, to the roaring 20s, on into the Hollywood era of the 1950s and even beyond.

Moet at the Golden GlobesPerhaps it’s because of the associations with those, apparently, glamourous times in the past that the coupe glass has a certain nostalgia attached to it: there’s nothing to match coupe glasses for building a champagne pyramid and to this day the coupe is still regarded as the perfect glass for many cocktails. You only have to look at the Moet Golden Hour glass used at this year’s Golden Globe awards.

The criticism often levelled at coupe glasses is that the aromas dissipate before they can be really appreciated and that the effervescence dies away too quickly. The first part is certainly correct – the aromas spread out sideways rather than being focussed upwards towards the  nose, but the part about the bubbles dying away too quickly always seems irrelevant to me because the bubbles in Champagne persist for far longer than it takes an average person to finish the glass anyway.

Be that as it may, by the time the 1970s arrived the coupe was falling out of favour and being replaced by the tall, elegant, longer-stemmed flute. (It’s probably just Three flutesa coincidence, but an intriguing one, that the real boom in Champagne sales, 1960 – 2000, coincided with the popularity of the flute glass). Anyway, one might have expected the popularity of the flute to be unchallenged for many a year yet, but recently the preeminent position of the flute is coming under threat.

These days there is a growing body of opinion, especially amongst more practiced champagne drinkers, that holds that flutes are too tall and narrow to appreciate the full complexity of champagne. They’re just not wide enough to swirl the wine and release the aromas and if you do try to swirl the champagne around in a flute you’ll probably slop it inelegantly over the sides and over your hand too.

The answer, according to this side of the debate, is to go for a much larger, rounder glass, more akin to the type of glass you’d use to serve still white or red wine, and a plethora of variations on this theme are being put forward as the perfect solution by wine writers, glass manufacturers, sommeliers and commentators of all sorts. Some of the leading Champagne houses, including Veuve Clicquot are advocating larger glasses so that you can add ice cubes to your champagne.

More Rich glassesHowever, when we take a closer look at this trend and ask who is it that is calling for the flute to be done away with and why, it reveals a sort of identity crisis that Champagne has perhaps got itself into and which needs very careful handling by those who influence the image and reputation of Champagne.

As far back as anyone can remember Champagne has always been synonymous with celebration.

It’s the ‘good time’ drink par excellence.

It’s the almost obligatory accompaniment to many of life’s most emotional moments and if it’s more expensive than most other wines, what the heck! This is a special occasion that warrants a little extravagance.

Whether this imagery came about by design, or by accident, it’s sheer marketing gold and it has stood Champagne in good stead for centuries. So much so, in fact, that Champagne has come to be seen as something apart from other wines. You only have to look at the headings in any wines list: there are wines in one section and then there are Champagnes in a separate section.

However, over the past 20 years or so, many champagne houses have been at pains to present Champagne in a rather more ‘serious’ light and to emphasise its Beyond the flute 2qualities as a gastronomic wine to be matched with a wide variety of foods and served during, and perhaps even throughout, a meal.

One wonders why this shift in positioning was deemed necessary.

Was it because the market for Champagne as a celebratory drink was declining and a new niche had to be found?

Was it perhaps out of a feeling of inferiority versus the great Bordeaux and Burgundy wines?

Was it just out of a desire to keep to increasing sales by finding new Champagne drinking occasions?

Who knows? However, it is not far-fetched to conclude that the tendency to drink champagne out of larger, rounder glasses stems directly from the desire to present Champagne as a wine to serve with food and the equal of any other great wine.

The next question then is how many people actually drink champagne with a meal?

Actually, I have to hold my hand up here because I entirely agree that Champagne is fabulous served with a meal and that it is far more than just a wine to go with aperitifs. Champagne can match sublimely with a whole host of dishes from start to finish of any meal. BUT, and it’s a big but, I don’t think that I am representative of the vast majority of Champagne drinkers and I would venture to suggest that wine writers and sommeliers and many of those advocating the adoption of larger glasses and the abandonment of the flute are not typical champagne drinkers either.

I don’t think that many people do drink Champagne with a meal and, what’s more, I doubt that the majority of Champagne drinkers ever will, even if bombarded with marketing about the suitability of Champagne as an accompaniment to food.

It’s my view that most people still see Champagne as an aperitif drink to start off an event and to provide the ‘feel good factor’ to make them feel special. Most Champagne drinkers are not really interested in lingering over the complexities of the aromas, or the nuances of the colour, so the issue of whether they have a flute glass or a wider glass is irrelevant to most of them.

The danger for the imagery and appeal of Champagne, is that by promoting Champagne as a fine wine for mealtimes, the celebratory image built up over so many years is in some way diluted.

This may be unlikely, I admit, but the possibility exists.

The most sensible outcome would seem therefore to let everyone make up their own mind about which glass they prefer and what suits the occasion when the Champagne will be served. This means allowing a role for a whole range of glasses from coupe, to flute, to a wider more wine-style glass

This also means avoiding telling anyone that they ‘should’ be using this type of glass or the other type of glass, or that it’s ‘wrong’ to use one type or another.

And last, just to throw another cat amongst the pigeons, it’s my guess that the coupe glass will make a comeback before the wider wine-style glasses catch on with the general public.

You read it here first. I wonder if I will have to eat my words one day.

How to drink more champagne and spend less (and ‘No’ that doesn’t involve drinking poor quality wine).

How to drink more champagne and spend less (and ‘No’ that doesn’t involve drinking poor quality wine).

If you’re reading this you’re probably someone who enjoys champagne and would like to open champagne more frequently and be more generous when you’re entertaining friends, family or colleagues, but let’s face it, champagne is not the cheapest wine available and you might assume that drinking more champagne must involve spending even more money, but that’s not necessarily the case.

If that sounds too good to be true, then read on because in this article I’ll explain how you can have the best of both worlds: more bottles to enjoy at less cost

If you'd like more tips like this to help you learn about champagne,gain more confidence when you're choosing champagne and share your knowledge with friends and family, just click the link at the end of this article to get started

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A vast choice if you look

Maisons de Champagne

You probably know that many champagne makers are referred to as ‘Maisons’ (Champagne ‘houses’ in English) and one of the most striking things about the ‘Maisons’ is that they account for by far and away the lion’s share of sales - 72% of total sales and a huge 87% of export sales according to the figures for 2018

You might conclude that this level of dominance is purely and simply down to the fact that there are few champagne makers other than the Maisons  and/or that the Maisons produce the best quality champagnes.

As regards the number of Maisons, there are about 80 members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne – the association to which they belong, but that’s a small fraction of the total number of champagne makers which is over 4,000, so there’s no shortage of choice outside the Maisons.

As regards quality, the Maisons certainly do produce excellent quality champagnes, but that’s only part of the reason that they sell so many bottles. The main reason is that most consumers buy champagne because they recognise the label or the brand name. Of course, they appreciate the quality of the champagne in the bottle, but the choice of brand has little, or nothing, to do with the quality of what’s in the bottle – it’s all down to brand recognition, marketing and distribution and it’s in these areas that the Maisons excel.

However, there are two other categories of champagne maker that you should be aware of and get to know if you want to

  • discover some wonderful champagnes
  • save yourself a lot of money

and

  • have a well-rounded and balanced knowledge of champagne

As mentioned above, there are plenty of these other champagne makers to choose from. Even if they only have a 13% share of export sales, that still translates into about 40 million bottles– I’d guess that’s probably going to be enough for your next party.

What to look for

These two types of champagne maker are,

Sign at De Sousa Look at the Blue SkyThe Récoltants Manipulants who make champagne using only grapes grown in their own vineyards as opposed to the Maisons who, to a greater or lesser extent, have to buy in grapes from third parties to supplement what they grow in their own vineyards. (Another term that means much the same as Récoltant Manipulant is Propriétaire Récoltant is shown in this picture).

These artisan champagne makers tend to be fairly small, independent and family run enterprises, but their lack of size by no means hinders their ability to make the most amazing champagnes.

One or two are already well known by wine lovers and command quite high prices: Jacques Selosse and Egly-Ouriet comes to mind immediately.

Others are widely recognised as outstanding although they haven’t yet reached cult status outside a relatively small group of champagne aficionados: De Sousa, Agrapart, Pierre Peters, Françoise Bedel, Bérèche, David Leclapart, Chartogne-Taillet to name just a few examples.

Then there’s another group that you might say are ‘bubbling under’

Pehu Simonet

Marguet

Margaine

Hughes Godmé

Hure Frères

Moussé

Marc Hébrart

Pascal Doquet

and at least 50 more that you should really try for yourself if ever you find them in the shops.

The quality and character of these champagnes are fantastic and to make them even more attractive the prices will often be considerably lower than the more famous international brands and vastly less expensive than the top-of-the-range iconic brands whose price is usually counted in the multiple hundreds of dollars or pounds.

But apart from recognising the maker’s name, how do you spot one of these independent, artisan brands?

Look for the maker’s registration number, which must, by law, appear on the label. It will be in small print and you will have to look carefully, but if the maker is a Récoltant Manipulant the letters RM will precede the registration number (the letters NM will appear on the label of bottles from one of the Maisons).

Rise of the Cooperatives

Nicolas feuillateThe third type of champagne makers are the Coopératives Manipulants which are large groupings of small grape growers who pool their resources to achieve economies of scale and improve the quality of the finished product. They’re usually called simply cooperatives.

There was a time, some 20, 30 or more years ago, when the quality of some of the wines made by cooperatives was unreliable and they gained something of a poor reputation. Unfortunately, in some people’s minds this perception persists despite huge improvements across the board from the vineyard to the final product.

Names of makers in this category that you will find in many shops if you are on the lookout for them include Nicholas Feuillatte (now the 3rd biggest selling brand of champagne behind only Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot).

Of course, size alone is not a guarantee of quality but the awards that are being regularly given to champagnes from cooperatives testify to the quality of many of these brands. Champagne Palmer and Champagne Pannier are two great examples whilst others well worth taking the time to discover are  De Saint-Gall, Castelnau and Jaquart.

Last but not least, it’s interesting to note that some of the champagnes recently launched at very high prices by celebrities, particularly from the world of music, are made by cooperatives. Fortunately, the less hyped champagnes from these cooperatives can be bought and enjoyed for a fraction of the price.

To spot these cooperative brands, look for the letters CM in front of the maker’s registration number on the label.

So why not make it your New Year’s resolution to explore some of these champagnes that you may not yet be familiar with?  Not only will they provide you with lots of enjoyment, but you’ll end up spending a lot less than you would if you only go for the best known and most widely distributed brands.

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I hope you enjoyed that and found it useful, Being familar with champagne is part and parcel of living the good life. You feel good about yourself and you can share a lot of pleasure with friends and family, but of course there's lots more to discover.

I'd like nothing more than to guide you on your journey into the heart of Champagne and to help you learn through articles,videos, information, quizes and lots more.

To get started just click this link

 

 

The Price of Champagne

I’m guessing that you’re already a champagne lover and you probably enjoy opening a bottle whenever the opportunity arises, but of course, Champagne isn’t the cheapest of wines and I’m afraid that I can’t do much to change that, although I can suggest where you can find some fabulous champagnes at prices far lower than some of the famous brands, but more about that later.

In the meantime the least I can do is to explain why champagne will never the be cheapest wine around and what is driving those prices

Harvest benne225There are several things that come into play. You can consider them separately but in reality they are all linked

- Growing grapes in Champagne is an incredibly labour intensive undertaking. You can say that about many vineyard regions of course but the issue in even more pronounced in Champagne. For example, it requires about 200 hours of work, per hectare, to do the pruning and that’s just one of many vineyards jobs

- Partly because of this the price of grapes is high and rises inexorably every year. In 2019 the average prices were:

Chardonnay (Grand Cru) 7.15 euros /kilo

Pinot Noir (Grand Cru ) 7.10 euros/kilo

Premiers Crus 6.90 – 7.00 euros/kilo

Other Crus including Meunier 6.00 – 6.50 euros/kilo

And these are the average prices. Many houses pay a premium to secure top quality grapes from the most prized villages and the best plots, so the actual price paid may, in some instances, be considerably higher.

- Coupled with the price of grapes is the price of vineyard land. The total area in the Champagne appellation is limited and although there has been some debate in 100 per centthe past about enlarging the area, it hasn’t happened yet. With high demand and limited supply, it follows that land prices are high.

The very best plots in a Grand Cru village will fetch 2 million euros, or even more, per hectare and even for a less prestigious plot you would expect to pay 1 million euros

- Last but not least is the marketing of champagne and the profit margins involved, but that‘s too  big a topic to cover now. I'll explain that later in another article.

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Why are some champagnes so expensive?

Krug Rose label 19th Feb 2010At practically every champagne tasting someone asks me this question, or a variation:

"Why are some champagnes so expensive?"

 “Is Cristal really that good?” “ Am I getting value for my money if I  buy Cristal / Dom Pérignon / Krug / ... fill in the blank?"

In this article you’ll not only get a glimpse into the workings of a champagne house to understand how the prices are arrived at, you’ll get an appreciation of why expensive champagnes can still give you great value.

When people ask why prestige cuvée champagnes are ‘so’ expensive perhaps they really want to know what each constituent element costs so as to arrive at the price in the shop, or in the bar, but of course, it doesn’t work like that.

The real reasons why some of the prestige cuvée champagnes are very expensive is that

- they can be

- they have to be

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

In the normal world of buying and selling it is generally true that the higher the price of the product on sale, the lower the sales volume will be.

Louis Vuitton storeHowever things are sometimes reversed in the rarefied world of luxury goods. Some products are said to be ‘Weblen’ products. That is to say that the more the price goes up, the more desirable they become and the more sales go up as result.

A ‘Weblen’ product is the holy grail for brands that operate in the luxury sector and  consequently Rule No. 1 for luxury brands is never to justify the price with logic; for example:

Part A costs $X, part B costs $Y, add in the cost of labour, transport, profit margin etc. etc. and you can see that the price in the shop should be $Z

Although someone within each luxury brand could undoubtedly explain things in this way, it’s an absolute NO NO to even think about revealing this to customers.

After all, and taking champagne as the example, it’s not a bottle of wine that people are looking for when they buy a bottle, it’s a dream, an emotion, a memory, a feeling, a status. Each of these things has a value all of its own that is unique to each buyer and cannot be precisely measured – it’s beyond value and the bottle of champagne is just the vehicle by which all this is delivered. Above all, to buy anything less than an expensive product would just not match the image that the buyer has of the person he or she is, or wants to become.

So the first reason why the price of some prestige cuvée champagnes is high is because it can be and that’s what customers expect.

However, there’s another driver behind the price - most expensive champagnes cost what they do because they have to.

In order for you to understand what I mean by this I should explain a little about the economics of the champagne industry.

The area in which champagne may officially be produced is quite small, ( it covers about 35,000 hectares or  86,000 acres ), and it’s also rigidly controlled.

Everything that happens within the champagne region is regulated:  from the number of vines you can plant per hectare, to the weight of grapes that you are allowed to harvest from one hectare, right through to amount of juice you may press from each kilo of grapes harvested. If you want more grapes, you can’t just go out and plant more vines. That’s not allowed.

All this is done in a bid to maintain the reputation and high quality standards that are associated with champagne and you have to admit that, by and large, this has been achieved. However, it also means the amount of champagne that can be produced each year is limited; it’s just over 300 million bottles per year, in fact.

What’s more, the amount of bottles that each champagne house can produce is limited by the amount of grapes it has available, either from its own vineyards, or from supplies it can purchase from growers who do not make champagne themselves and prefer to sell their grapes.

So when sales reach the limit of what can be produce the only way for a champagne house to increase annual turnover is to increase the price of the bottles it does sell, but this is easier said than done.

Most houses sell a ‘ flagship’ non-vintage brand – these sell in the UK for  between £30-£40 (probably between $40 - $70 in the USA), but this segment of the market is crowded and competition is tough so it’s hard to raise prices.

2 bottles of CristalThis is a major reason why houses also sell a prestige cuvée – the likes of Cristal and Dom Pérignon to cite just two well-known examples – that sell for multiple  times the price of a ‘flagship’ champagne even though the cost of production does not increase in anything like the same proportion.

It’s the generous profit on these prestige cuvées that drives the profitability of a champagne house.

Of course there is money to be made in selling non-vintage champagne if you sell enough of it, but champagne houses usually re-invest a large part of the profit on non-vintage in advertising, marketing, distribution and all their other business activities. On the other hand,  a much greater proportion of the profit on the more expensive prestige cuvées champagne goes straight to the bottom line.

So, from the commercial point of view, prestige cuvées are the engines that keep the business going and that’s why all champagne houses are looking to develop their own iconic prestige cuvée for which consumers are prepared to pay very handsomely.

So the price is what it is because it can be and it has to be.

Phew! After all this talk of prices and profit, it’s important to take a step back and pause a while.

It’s certainly interesting to take a peek ‘behind the veil’ so to speak, and to consider the commercial aspects of champagne, but to focus only on that would be churlish and unnecessary. After all, champagne is all about pleasure, not just numbers, so my advice, whatever champagne you are buying, is not to think too much about the price, but just to enjoy the experience, the dreams, the emotions, the memories and all those other good things you are getting for the price of the bottle.

If you want to lean more, to delve deeper into the wonderful world of champagne and keep up-to-date with what's going on CLICK HERE for information, news, videos and more.

 

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3 Things About Champagne That Not Many People Know

If you’re like me and love to learn about Champagne and wine you’ll enjoy these unusual and little-known facts. Keep them to yourself, share them with friends, or check them out when you next visit Champagne.

If you’re like me and love to learn about Champagne and wine you’ll enjoy these unusual and little-known facts. Keep them to yourself, share them with friends, or check them out when you next visit Champagne.

 

1) Although one of the main regions of Champagne is called La Montagne de Reims, the highest point on this so-called ‘mountain’ is only 286 metres high.

View from Verzy over the plain of ChampagneThis spot is Mont Sinai which lies above the village of Verzy and enjoys a commanding view across the plain below. This was the reason the spot served as a look out post during WWI and if you take a short detour to visit it you can see the remains of a WWI pill box on the spot.

This picture was taken in the vineyards just below Mont Sinai but you can just make out the hills in the distance on the oppositte of the plain where the German positions would have been in WWI

 

 

2) There are 37 walled vineyards or ‘Clos’ in Champagne from which a champagne or, in one case a still wine, is produced.

Clos Barnaut

The advantage of having a walled vineyard is that the vines inside are sheltered from what can be pretty harsh, cold weather outside.

However, with the general warming of the climate over the past few years, this advantage may be much reduced and in some cases it may become a disadvantage.

For example, the Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Clos Barnaut in the centre of the village of Bouzy get too ripe and lose too much acidity to be used to make Champagne,  but they can make an excellent Bouzy Rouge.

This picture is of Le Clos Barnaut and you can see that it is right in amongst the houses in the middle of Bouzy.

On the day I took this picture, Philippe Secondé the current owner of Champagne Barnaut, was taking delivery of several new vats for the new winery he was having built, so the view of Le Clos is a little obscured,

 

3) There are only 3 remaining plots of pre-phylloxera grapes still in production in Champagne

The wonders of AppellationPhylloxera is the name for an aphid that found its way to Europe from America in the 19th century and which, little by little, spread through much of Europe destroying vineyards in its path, including those in Champagne.

By good fortune, a few plots of vineyard remained unaffected – perhaps because they lie on sandy soil through which the aphids find it difficult to move.

They are

Les Beaux Sens -  owned by Champagne Chartogne Taillet in Merfy (Meunier)

Clos St. Jacques and Le Clos des Chaudes Terres – owned by Champagne Bollinger in Aÿ (Pinot Noir)

And another plot owned by Champagne Tarlant in Oeuilly ( Chardonnay)

This picture is of Le Clos St. Jacques which is also one of the remaining plots of ungrafted vines, so the picture could equally have been used in section 2

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If you have anything to add to the list of clos, or perhaps you know of other ungrafted plots, please let me know.

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Until the next time and meanwhile... Stay Bubbly

 

Jiles