As if we ever needed an excuse to break open the bubbly, National Champagne Week makes it almost rude not to. Running from October 1-7 , the fun includes pairings, tastings and champagne cocktail masterclasses.
I grab the chance to embrace the bubbles with Absolutely Fabulous’s Helen Lederer, who’s a fizz aficionado. A former wine writer for the Sunday Express, Lederer has a column in Glass of Bubbly mag, and in a few weeks, she’ll host the Love Wine Festival. It’s safe to say Lederer loves vino in all its forms, so who better to hang out with in Champagne Week?
‘Mustard’s very in right now – and blue!’ says Lederer, eyeing up the sofa in the bar at the Athenaeum Hotel where we’ll do our champagne tasting. We each have four glasses in front of us, ranging in size, like an upmarket alcoholic version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We kick off with the Pere et Fils, and then move on to the rosé – this is the one you can have with cake. Lederer is excellent at identifying the aromas and I ask her how she does it. She says, ‘with a nose as big as mine, you just shove it in the glass!’
The Extra Age is up next – this is richer, aged for at least five years, and served in a glass with a bigger brim. Lederer says there’s no need for this: ‘I personally prefer a flute – but I’d drink it out of a plastic mug, if I had to!’ We finish with the White Label, dropping in raspberries, sprigs of mint and bits of lemon peel.
Three hours later, and between us we’ve drunk all four bottles of champers, stubbornly refusing to spit out a drop. ‘Why would you spit out champagne?’ asks Lederer, ‘it’s a movement we must battle against – it’s insane!’
At this point, Lederer gives me her top tips for drinking champagne…
1) Snap up the special offers
‘My Christmas party trick is hoover up the special offers in all the supermarkets, so we have a stockpile of sparkle! When guests arrive, you give them a glass, put a sugar lump in, then elderflower liquor (not cordial!), zest of a grapefruit, then the fizz! People get remarkably close in a short space of time and that’s what you want – a big, stonking fizzy glass and friendship!’
2) Go solo – don’t be deterred from drinking alone
‘When I was chucked, it took me two weeks, a few bottles of champagne and I was over him! Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for going to that fridge, opening that bottle, and doing a Bridget Jones (although I’m before Bridget Jones, I’m the precursor!). Solo drinking is fine. It’s a good way to get over a sad time, because it’s a celebration of life – and life moves on.’
3) Don’t drink champagne with dinner
‘Champagne is to be appreciated on its own. You don’t need a meal and I’m not agonising over this pairing business! A few little treats such as a slender finger of sandwich or a soupcon of nuts, is perfect! But never crisps – that would be sacrilege! Champagne will make you lose your appetite – but if fill yourself up with enough bubbles, and you can fly!’
4) Order by the glass
‘I always start off with a glass, then because it’s so enticing, you say, “shall we have another?” By the time you’re on your third, you should have had a bottle. You look at the bill and go, “my God, it’s twice as much!” But you don’t know before you start, that it’s going to be as good as it is, and there are worse things to regret! Life is full of possibilities, so start with a glass, and see where it takes you!’
5) Never stop
‘You can start drinking at noon, then carry on indefinitely – I think people should never say stop! Drinking Champagne is a tacit agreement to share something extravagant and that’s special. Time stands still and it lifts everything – how wonderful to be able to do that! It costs you a few more pennies, but why not?’
With thanks to Lanson and The Athenaeum Hotel & Residencies
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here