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

 


 

How Long Does Champagne Need To Be Aged? Part 1

There are dozens of anecdotes and quotations associated with wine and champagne. I’m sure you’ve heard lots of them.

One of my favourites is

“Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.”

It’s not surprising then that if you ask most people about wine they will probably say that the older it is, the better it is, but that’s not necessarily true, especially when it comes to champagne. In the next few minutes you’ll find out why not and you’ll learn the golden rules about ageing champagne.

Bottles-ageing-at-Krug225With champagne, unlike most wines, there are two distinct ageing periods that you need to take into consideration: the first is the time spent ageing in the bottle before it leaves the cellars in France and the second is the time from then on until you actually drink it. 

The first is called ageing on lees. ‘Lees’ is the name for the dead yeasts cells left over after the fermentation inside the bottle has finished and which form a sediment in the bottle.

The second is called ‘bottle ageing’ and is not at all the same thing.

Here’s how they are different and why that’s important

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The rules of champagne making set down the minimum age a wine must be before it can be sold. The rule is the same for grower champagnes as for famous brands; everyone plays by theDepot-in-Rose-at-De-Sousa225 same rules. For non-vintage champagne it’s 15 months and for 12 months of that time the champagne must be allowed to age in the cellars with the lees in the bottle.

During this time the dead yeasts cell break down and release into the wine a cocktail of amino acids, enzymes and other nutrients which enrich the wine and develop its subtle flavours and aromas. This process is called autolysis.

At the same time there is another process going on called oxidisation. This is the reaction between the wine in the bottle and the oxygen in the atmosphere outside. It can take place because even though the bottle is sealed, the seal is not totally hermetic and a minute amount of air still gets into the bottle to react with the wine.

Bottles-ageing-at-Philipponnat225Oxidisation will also produce richer, deeper flavours in the wine up to a certain point, but it is also the process, if carried too far, that will turn the wine into vinegar.

The cellars in Champagne provide the perfect conditions for the wine to age and for these two processes: autolysis and oxidation, to work together, so generally speaking, the longer a champagne ages in the cellars in Champagne, the more rich and complex the wine becomes and, thanks to the yeast cells, the champagne retains its freshness and liveliness.

So how do you know how long the champagne spent in the cellars before you bought it?

Well for most wines it’s easy. There’s a date on the bottle which indicates the year of harvest. No such luck with non-vintage champagne mind you; there’s no date on the bottle.

To make things worse champagne makers don't indicate on the label exactly how long the champagne has been aged. This is a shame because it’s crucial information for any serious champagne lover.

We saw above that the minimum ageing is 12 months on lees, but this is hardly time enough to allow the champagne to acquire any real quality so most reputable champagne makers will age their champagnes for 2 -3 years, but there's quite a difference between 24 and 36 months and you're none the wiser from just looking at the bottle.

However, if you are content to stick with just the famous brands and take their word for what they say about the ageing period then you should be fine. However if you want to explore grower champagnes and discover all the amazing variety and quality they offer, then you’ll need some more information.

Now because non-vintage champagne is a blend of wines from several different harvests what you need to know is which harvests, but where do you find that information?

One way is to ask your supplier and if you are dealing with a specialist retailer, or a top quality sommelier, he or she will know. It’s part of parcel of doing a good job. However you will need to go to a specialist because you won’t get that level of expertise at your local supermarket – mind you, you probably won’t find a good range of champagnes there either.

Tarlant-Back-Label225It would be nice to think that the champagne makers put this information on the back label and there are a few of the more enlightened ones that are doing just that. Take champagne Tarlant for example. They have some of the most informative back labels in the business

The bottle you see in the picture is a blend of wines taken mainly from the 2005 harvest therefore bottled in 2006. So when I was drinking this champagne in 2011 I knew that the youngest wine in the blend was at least 5 years old. That’s an impressive age and far longer than any of the major branded champagnes will ever offer you for a non-vintage champagne.

In the next article I’ll explain about bottle ageing and how you can avoid having to throw your precious champagne down the drain.

What Price Les Champagnes des Vignerons?

Champagnes-de-Vignerons225I recently ran a small survey on my Facebook page and on LinkedIn asking people what the phrase Les Champagnes de Vignerons meant to them.

There seems to be a vague general agreement that it means champagne from a small producer, but in fact it doesn’t mean Récoltant Manipulant or ‘Grower Champagne’ as many people thought., although it doesn’t exclude that either.

No one seems to know precisely what it means and that’s a problem because the expression is being used by Le Syndicat Général de Vignerons as the headline phrase to promote the less well-known champagnes and to persuade people to try them.

So I thought it was time to give everyone the real story.

The reason I wanted to do the survey was that I work exclusively with small and medium sized champagne producers who want to improve their business. I know that many of them make wonderful champagnes which, in my opinion, are equally as good as most of the better-known brands and which, for me at least, are far more interesting by virtue of their variety and individuality.

However I also know that they struggle to sell their champagne at anything approaching the price of the big brands and I wanted to understand why this should be.

Was the slogan Les Champagnes de Vignerons helping or hindering and what exactly were the images and associations that the slogan evoked for champagne drinkers?

Well it was surprising and the most obvious thing was that people don’t share the same perception.

Made with Herzblut

Some people thought Les Champagne des Vignerons were made by small cooperatives; some people said they were’ independent’ producers. A few people used the word ‘authentic’ and some said ‘high quality’

Martin in Germany used some more emotional adjectives and said it meant champagne made with love and with Herzblut which I guess you could translate by saying that the maker had ‘put his all’ into making the champagne.

All this is true, but is still pretty vague and that’s not surprising for the very simple reason that there is no definition of a Champagne de Vigneron. Here’s why

The concept is supposed to convey the idea that the champagne is made by the person who owns the vineyards – grower champagne if you like, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

Any champagne maker can be a Champagne de Vigneron and display the sign. The main criterion is that the producer has to be a member of the Syndicat Général, but the members of the Syndicat can be RM, cooperatives or even NM.

Erick-checking-the-grapes225There are no criteria about quality, size of production or anything else for that matter. It appears you just have to persuade the Syndicat that the champagne is made in smallish quantities, and that the maker was directly and to a significant degree, involved in making the champagne.

If the rules about being in this 'club' are so broad no one should be surprised that there is no clear agreement amongst champagne drinkers about what Les Champagne de Vignerons means.

It’s all much too vague to my mind and I think a good deal more thought needs to go into the whole concept.

What about the price?

Learning-about-Enherbement225Many people said that they associated Les Champagne de Vignerons with good value for money. This is true from the consumers’ point of view, but not necessarily from the producer’s point of view. They would love to sell their product at the same prices as the big brands.

I wonder why it is that in many other industries, descriptions such as hand-made, limited quantity, artisan and so on, are usually and automatically associated with higher prices, yet when it comes to Champagne, consumers and people in the wine trade often expect these amazing artisan champagnes to be cheaper than the big brands.

When one finds these superb champagnes on sale at discounted prices, is that a service to the consumer or a disservice to the producer?

Would you be prepared to pay a bit extra for a Champagne des Vignerons, or do you always expect them to be cheaper than well-known brands?

Cheap prices for top quality artisan champagnes are all the more illogical when you realise that the big brands have significant economies of scale so it’s those champagnes that should be cheaper than the smaller brands, not the other way around, but that’s the power of marketing I suppose and we humans are all too easily influenced by it.

To be honest I’m probably just as susceptible to marketing as anyone else. It’s just that I like to think that I have more discernment, won’t be taken in by the marketing and will make my own choices about which champagnes to drink.

Maybe I just delude myself, but I still prefer the small champagne brands whether they’re called Champagnes de Vignerons, ‘grower champagnes’ or just simply ‘amazing’.

If you’d like to make any comments, please feel free, either on

Facebook

 https://www.facebook.com/MyManInChampagne?ref=hl

or on LinkedIn if you’re a member

 http://www.linkedin.com/in/mymaninchampagne

I’d love to read your opinion

Bubbly Best Wishes

Jiles

Opening Champagne With A Sabre

Sabrage225Have you ever seen people open a champagne bottle with a sabre? It looks pretty impressive doesn’t it? Yet when it comes to doing it yourself, it’s something that most people are really apprehensive about

The thing about ‘Sabrage’ to use the French word, is that once you learn to do it you realise that it’s actually a lot easier to do than you had imagined.

The trick is to have good teacher and I had the good fortune recently to meet one of the best: M. Philippe Brugnon who has achieved a lofty position in the Ordre du Sabre d’Or – the international association for those who have mastered the art of sabrage.

Sabrage-certificates225Champagne Philippe Brugnon in tucked away in a quiet street in the village of Rilly-La-Montagne and you’d never find it unless you knew where to go. There’s no sign on the gate, or the door and everything is very low key. Inside however you are in for a treat.

Just take a look at these photos to see how much fun it can be to learn sabrage and there’s even a video below which the ‘star’ has graciously agreed I can use on my blog.

If you’d like to try your hand at sabrage I can include it in my private guided tour programme for you at a modest extra charge, provided you give enough advance notice. So send me an e-mail now if you’re interested and I’ll get straight back to you This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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The Weirdest Machine In Champagne

WeirdMachine225I came across a weird machine the other day.

I just spotted this very elegant parasol which looked like it was gliding over the tops of the vines, so I stopped to ask what was going on.

The vineyard belongs to Champagne Mumm, the tractior is state-of-the art and is GPS guided, but the bit at the back look as if it has come out of a museum.

Planting-new-vines225Take a look at the video and see if you can guess what they are doing before the answer appears on the screen.

 

 Still, I guess this chap is grateful that he doesn't have to do it by hand.

Here's the video.

 

 

Grower Champagnes, part 1 - What are they?

There’s something stirring in champagne. Perhaps it’s not a full blown revolution just yet, but it’s something no champagne lover can ignore: the ever increasing interest in what are called Grower Champagnes.

If you haven’t come across them yet and have never tried them, then I, for one, think youChristophe-Mignon-Brut225 should. Here’s what it’s all about and what you need to know....

The change is happening everywhere if you take the time to look around you –

Micro breweries producing local beers that are more than a match, flavour-wise at least, for the giants of the industry;

Farmers’ markets where you can discover some fabulous produce and meet the fascinating ‘real’ people who produce or grow it, instead of struggling round the same old supermarkets shelves every week for mass-produced produce.

Well, the same thing’s happening in champagne and that’s where grower champagne comes in....

It’s the return of the small man, or woman, because more and more people are looking for something that gives them not just good value, but a sense of being.... what’s the best word? Perhaps ‘honest’ or ‘authentic’.