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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Champagne - worth every penny

Why is champagne so expensive?

I have been asked this question so many times, and the answer is more complicated than you think.

Demand and expectation play a big part in the pricing structure, especially on the rare and special wines, but it is far more than that.

Because of French Appellation Controllee rules, champagne has to be grown in the designated area of Champagne.

It must be hand pruned and hand harvested.

The wine is fermented, then bottled with a charge of yeast and sugar.

A secondary fermentation creates pressure and the sparkle is born.

Finally the bottles are uncorked, sediment removed then recorked, labelled and made ready for sale. There really are no short cuts.

The bottles are three times heavier than ordinary wine bottles.

The demand for these wines has made the land that is used for wine production fabulously valuable; a hectare of planted vineyard will cost in excess of a million euros.

Even the heavy bottles cost over twice that of normal ones. It is easy to see how the costs begin to add up.

Is it worth it?

Well, the region of Champagne is so far north it has a very cool climate. The grapes are harder to ripen and because of this, very dry wines are made.

These are perfect for the basic wines that are then made into sparkling wine. This, coupled with the soils and geography of the area – the French would call this ‘terroir’ – make champagne almost unique.

If you want my view, dry, crisp with a biscuity slightly yeasty bouquet, luxurious fruity flavour and slow lazy bubbles, I think the answer has to be yes, especially for a special occasion.

The real value wines are made by smaller less well-known makers.

The champagne house Eduoard Brun owns not much more than seven hectares and makes a stunning wine, Cuvee Speciale, at just under £27. This year they have won gold in the International Wine Challenge, proving that the small producer can achieve top recognition.

In reality £30 for basic champagne may appear to be a lot of money, and it is, certainly for most of us.

But value for money? Well, yes, because it is essentially hand made and in my mind should be, and always will be, the ultimate celebration wine.
 

By Nick Shill
Published: February 6, 2012

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