Drinking Champagne on a beer budget
Question from Shannon: Hi Lauren, I love Champagne but have no idea what to look for in a good drop. And why is Champagne so expensive? I’m saving at the moment and can’t afford to always pop the Dom. What do you suggest?
In a nut shell: You’re in luck! It’s hard to get a cheap Champagne (for all the reasons I’ve listed in ‘in a clam shell’) but if you know what to look out for it’s super easy to get a cheap Sparkling that tastes like Champagne! Here’s my hot tip – when buying Sparkling wine (rather than Champagne) make sure it’s made in the Traditional Method (which is the same way Champagne is made) and it will have those delicious yeasty, creamy flavours you like in the French drop. Read on because there are details below that you want to know and I’ve suggested a few delish bottles to try too.
In a clam shell: So when you said you loved Champagne I’m assuming you meant the French sparkling wine from Champagne – which you want to drink more of for less – but we all know it’s hard to get a cheap bottle of Champagne! Right? Right!
Let’s start with the taste of Champagne. You (and I) love it and I know why. It’s got more to do with the way it’s made (which is different to the way most Sparkling wines are made) and less to do with where it is made. So in finding your perfect bottle of bubbly you should stick to bubbles that have been made in the same way as Champagne. And you can identify this by the label on the bottle. It will say Traditional Method somewhere on it. If it’s made in the Traditional Method it’ll have those Champagne flavours you love – fresh bread, creaminess and nuttiness.
So what is difference between Champagne/Traditional Method Sparking compared to plain old Sparkling wine?
A bottle of sparkling that has NOT been made in the Traditional Method is fermented (juice turns to alcoholic juice) in a sealed tank. Wine goes in tank, yeast is added, yeast eats sugar in wine which creates alcohol and carbon dioxide (but carbon dioxide doesn’t turn into bubbles yet because it can’t escape – the tank is sealed). Wine is bottled under pressure and when you pop the cork the bubbles come about. Simple.
Making Champagne or Sparking wine in the Traditional Method is much more labour intensive and therefore production costs are higher which is ultimately passed onto the consumer.
A mixture and sugar and yeast is added to the wine which is immediately bottled and sealed. Yeast eats sugar in bottle, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide (which turns into bubbles when you pop the cork). Then the wine is aged. While ageing occurs the dead yeast cells that have eaten all the sugar release unique flavours into the wine (and I’m tipping you like these flavours because you like Champagne). This process, depending on the producer, can last for months, even years. Once the wine is aged it is then ‘disgorged’ – this means removing the dead yeast cells. The bottle is VERY slowly tipped and jiggled until it is almost vertical and all the yeast cells are in the neck (this can be done by hand or mechanical – obviously by hand is going to increase the cost of the wine). The plug of yeast is frozen and then the bottle is opened and the pressure from the carbon dioxide pops the yeast cork out. Then and bottle is topped by with a mixture of wine and sugar and is ready to drink. And that’s one very good reason why you pay the big bucks for Champagne!
But why is Traditional Method Sparkling wine cheaper than Champagne if it’s made in the same labour intensive way? A few reasons…
- The Champagne region is small and the land is some of the most expensive in the world because the cool climate and chalky soils provides the ideal conditions to grown the grapes that go into Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay).
- The region is one of the most northerly wine producing regions in the world which means the climate can vary greatly from one year to the next meaning, in a bad year, the grapes may not ripen fully which limits how many grapes the producer has available to make the wine with and therefore how many bottles can be produced.
- Let’s not forget marketing! Champagne as a brand is enormously successful and has been marketed as a luxurious celebration drink since the dawn of time (and don’t we believe it). When you’ve got Scarlett Johansson as the pin-up for Moët & Chandon you’re going to pay a premium!
Alrighty, now onto the best bit – what drops you should drink to make you think you’re drinking Champagne. I’m not sure what your budget is but I’ll stick to bottles $30 and under – sounds reasonable to me. And I don’t know where you live or where your grog shop is so I’ve gone with wines from Dan Murphy’s because I assume there is one near you (if I made recommendations from my local bottlo I’d really piss off you southsiders – keeping the peace people, keeping the peace). But if you have a particular wine shop you like just apply my rules to the bubbly there too!
Champagnes – I’ve only listed a few cause most are over the $30 mark
Sparkling wines made in the Traditional Method
Chandon Vintage Brut – $27.30
Grant Burge Pinot Noir Chardonnay 750ml – $23.99
Petaluma Croser NV 750ml – $19.85
Bird In Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir 750ml – $24.99
A by Arras Premium Cuvee 750ml – $20.90
Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Brut 750ml – $17.80
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut 750ml – $18.99
Yarra Burn Vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 750ml – $19.95
Cloudy Bay Pelorus 750ml – $29.99
Image taken by Tim Walker and sourced from http://www.luxuo.com/celebrities/scarlett-johansson-moet-chandon-2011-campaign.html