Culture Wine & Food

    Bubbly at its best (iStock)

    How I learned to love champagne

    7 June 2018

    I have never been a big champagne drinker – predominantly for purse-string reasons – but the offer of a couple of days sampling fine fizz in the Mallorcan sun was hard to resist. I was accompanied on the trip by the comms supremo and managing director of Lanson, one of the world’s major champagne houses. Its credentials include a royal warrant and keeping the All England Club in fizz for the Wimbledon fortnight. As someone who regularly drinks £7 Tesco finest Prosecco, I felt I was in safe hands.

    Our venue was the city of Palma, which lies in a bay in the south coast of Mallorca. Beneath it the Mediterranean unfolds until it reaches the shores of Africa, while in the north arid farmland gives way to the mountains of Sierra de Tramuntana. About 15 miles to the west lies the town of Magaluf – the Spanish name for the British colony, Shagaluf – though the less said about that the better. Facing the calm waters of Palma bay lies the Portixol hotel, which was our venue and a little oasis of Balearic calm. It also, surprisingly, happened to stock a seemingly endless supply of Lanson champagne.

    Mikael Landström, who owns Portixol along with the Palma Sport and Tennis Club, and Hotel Esplendido in Port de Sóller (all of which we visited in the space of two days) is something of a local legend. He drives an instantly recognisable convertible Mustang and has redeveloped swathes of the city. His ambition now stretches out to the sea.

    Moored in Palma harbour is Mikael’s new baby, Falcao Uno, a 26-metre long boat designed in 1965 for the Belgian royal family. The sea was, thankfully, quite still when we went out on a chilly Mallorcan Wednesday, the beaches empty of all but the bravest sun-seekers. On the boat – as at every lunch and dinner – an ice bucket filled with bottles of Lanson champagne emerged.

    Champagne is a curious beast, enjoyable as much for what it connotes as its actual taste. To misquote F Scott Fitzgerald, the taste of champagne is full of money: rich, full, filling. While a sip of lambrini conjures a Proustian return to sun-drenched afternoons in Peckham Rye, a taste of prosecco to family Christmases, the moment a drop of champagne hits your palate you’re back on Falcao Uno, fresh octopus on the table and the managing director of one of the world’s leading champagne firms taking an urgent phone call.

    The Falcao Uno on the water

    Whether it’s Lanson’s extra-age blend (mature and complex), rosé (zesty, fruity, pink), white label (indistinguishable from prosecco, save for the price tag), or signature black label (crisp, refreshing and… by the fourth glass of champagne I’ve run out of adjectives), there is a stamp of quality on display here. Even for a natural champagne-sceptic like myself, it’s hard not to admit it’s a great drink – particularly when someone else is paying.

    After several hours, we finally return to shore. Our final meal in Mallorca is in Port de Sóller on the other side of the island, where Mikael has resurrected a hotel right on the harbour-side. As we sit outside enjoying a glass of – you guessed it – the Sóller tram rattles by the waterfront, like runaway scenery from a Wes Anderson movie. Despite the tranquillity of a beautiful evening, along the road British tourists bellyache loudly at an Irish pub, while, on our other side, a shirtless German man exuberantly enjoys a cocktail. For all the luxury hotels, yachts and champagne in Mallorca, you are never too far from a group of A-level students chugging a fishbowl.

    Returning to England after the short, two-hour, flight from Mallorca, I finish work and check my fridge. At the back I see the distinctive thick, curved glass and a glint of foil wrapping. Pulling it out, ready to return, even momentarily, to the high life of the day before, I notice an out-of-place word on the label. ‘CAVA’. I sigh. Things will never be the same again.