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Blog: Planet of the Grapes' Matt O'Connor in Champagne

Published:  30 January, 2012

Matt O'Connor, manager of Planet of the Grapes store in Holborn, joined in Harpers' trip to Champagne earlier this month, and blogs on his experience.

Matt O'Connor, manager of Planet of the Grapes store in Holborn, joined in Harpers' trip to Champagne earlier this month, and blogs on his experience.

After visiting Champagne for my first time only six months ago, I was extremely keen get back there and broaden my experience of the region - not only of the wines, but also the vineyards and techniques used to make them. 

With luck we were to visit a number of houses whose range we stock at Planet of the Grapes, so it was a perfect opportunity to taste, ask questions and understand why each house does things in a certain way. The one big lesson I took from the few days is the importance and consistency of the 'house style' to each house - from the fruit-driven style of Pol Roger, produced and maintained at lower temperatures, to the use of oak for maturation at Bollinger, or the emphasis on the use of Chardonnay by Taittinger - each house we visited had a specific characteristic which set it apart. This makes it a little easier for the consumer, once they have found which style they like - but also offers variety.

The visit to Laurent-Perrier and visit to the local vineyards provided a wonderful insight into all the elements which defines one vineyard versus another and gives the raw materials (the grapes) certain qualities and characteristics.

It was also good to visit smaller, somewhat lesser known producers and co-operatives (Charles Ellner & Castelnau) and understand their operation - particularly their place in the market and what they are trying to achieve in relation to the larger houses which have their brand and history. With the trend for 'grower' champagnes, understanding where they seem themselves fitting in the world of Champagne was very interesting - offering an alternative to the larger houses.

The wines themselves were very good  from all the houses. Some were a reinforcement of wines I tasted previously, while others were quite new to me. The zero dosage Ultra Brut from Laurent Perrier was one of these, with its crisp grapefruit flavours, bright acidity and lovely minerality. It was a revelation and had me hankering for some pan-fried scallops or fresh lobster. The 2000 Blanc de Blancs from Pol Roger - with its almost Meursault-like fruit, weight and roundness and the 1998 Celebris from Gosset was was another highlight - mainly Chardonnay which gave that lovely hazelnutty, honey, peach flavours, all balanced with smoky minerality and bright acidity, were truly memorable. These were serious wines, not just wines to drink before the 'real stuff'.

The other wonderful lesson for me was just how well Champagne can be matched with food - from the zero dosage wines with light seafood, to the weighty, round vintage wines with rich white meat in sauce or rosé with fruit-based dessert, to an aged Blanc de Blancs with local cheeses - we were very lucky to have lots of opportunities over the three days to experiment - and of course, find out how well Champagne matches up with foie gras - yum!  

Champagne offers a huge range of variety and individuality, a range which, for wine lovers is definitely worth exploring.