Champagne: Does it matter what we pop on New Year’s Eve?

ID-10074116Last night I spent an inordinate amount of time crouched in my cellar eyeing up the limited selection of sparkling wines I’ve managed to collect.

The objective? To decide what to open when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Should I open something expensive or affordable? French, English or other? Vintage or non-vintage? Blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs or a wider blend?

Such quandaries are the sort of thing that drive wine enthusiasts round the bend but cause the more sane of mind to utter the words ‘middle class problems’. Touché.

A trip to the typical British supermarket at this time of year can lead a person to believe that Champagne, or any sparkling wine for that matter, is the most popular drink in this country. It dominates the wine aisles, stands prominently at the end of the frozen foods section and often makes an appearance near the baked goods on a freestanding shelf designed to draw our attention. And then you have to pass another display as you head for the cashier. Much of this Champagne is reduced in price, often by as much as 50 per cent, in a stack ’em high, sell ’em low sort of fashion.

Never before (at least in my life) has Champagne been so cheap, easy to acquire and, crucially, decent in quality.

Growing up, champagne, spelled with a small ‘c’ because any fizzy wine with alcohol was a ‘champagne’ in my eyes, was something that we only ever drank on New Year’s Eve. Due to Canada’s high taxes and prohibition-era alcohol laws, the good stuff was expensive and all but unattainable.

Most of the time, we drank something cheap and a little bit wretched, the sort of sparkling wine you left in the freezer as long as possible before it transformed itself into block of ice, so that the low temperature muted the flavours. Being from Canada, this was most often something cheap, awful and domestic, such as Baby Canadian Sparkling. Sometimes it was cava, which was a welcome respite.

Back then, I didn’t actually like Champagne. I liked the idea of it. But not the taste. However, in the spirit of the night’s festivities, I forced it down my throat despite its paint-removing acidity. I did this in the same way that I had pretended to enjoy those glasses of harsh Canadian whisky that were served to me at Christmas.

Those were the days.

But today I find myself at the bottom of the steps in my cellar, hunched over a wine rack and trying to decide a much more palatable group of bottles. Some of them are the sort you’d expect to see a Russian oligarch opening in an ‘exclusive’ Mayfair club, while others gained a reputation as being the preferred tipple for City of London traders who were caught in the LIBOR fixing scandal.

Can I really go wrong with any of them? No. But that’s the problem: they’re all a bit too flashy.

And then I spotted it lurking below everything else: Lidl Champagne. Comte de Brismand Champagne Brut NV. It has been lurking in my cellar since I bought it in the first week of January last year, when I spotted it in a Lidl and thought, hey, why not?

And that is the point. Why not? Dom Perignon, eat your heart out.

EDIT: I have a bottle of Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003 waiting in reserve just in case the cheap fizz burns the back of my throat.

Christmas conundrum: How many bottles to bring to dinner?

2898493809_0075d48140_zCredit: Flickr Commons

It is a question for the ages: When going to dinner, how many bottles of wine should you bring? One, two, three or four?

This is not limited only to Christmas, but it’s at this time of year when the conundrum is most apparent. On a day when the shops will all be closed, there is no option to head out in search of more.

Some people would say the formula is a simple one. If travelling alone, bring one bottle. If travelling in pairs, bring two. But this ignores far too many variables. If this is a long dinner, complete with both dessert and cheese, it will demand a range of wines. Could you – would you? – trust your host and the other assembled guests to supply an appropriate tipple for each course?

If travelling alone, I always err on the side of caution. One bottle to give to the host and two others, a white and a red that I presume might go with dinner, stashed in my bag in case they are needed. If travelling as a couple, give two bottles to the host.

But what if someone forgot to bring an aperitif? Or a dessert wine? Or, heaven forbid, the Port? This would mean we need to bring a bottle of bubbly to start, a bottle of something for the host, a sweet wine to go with the pudding and a bottle of Port to finish it all off. And, to be safe, a bottle of red and white in the bag just in case.

Therefore, the ideal number of bottles to bring to dinner is six.

But what if not all of the guests bring enough wine? Or what if you find that some of the wine at the party just doesn’t pass muster? Best to add another bottle to that list, then.

There is the theory, of course, that the correct number of bottles of wine is n+1, where ‘n’ is the number you believe is necessary (either what the host expects or the six that you think will cover all of the bases). Therefore, if n=1, then the correct number of bottles is two.

However, if you have fears of being stuck at the Christmas party talking to Uncle Wayne long after the Port has run out, then the ideal number is 6+1=7. A bottle of bubbles to start, a bottle for the host, something sweet for dessert, a fine Port for the stilton, two bottles stashed in the bag just in case and a seventh bottle in reserve once the rest runs out.

Yes, that sounds about right.