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"If music be the food of love, play on", said Duke Orsino of Illyria in Twelfth Night. Shakespeare is believed to have penned these words at the beginning of the 1600s, but perhaps if he'd lived a century later after the legacies of Christopher Merret and Dom Pérignon had taken hold, he might have held a different view. If we could associate one food or drink with love and romance, then surely it would be Champagne. Never mind oysters and other aphrodisiacs, it's those magical bubbles in a glass of classic French sparkling wine that set the mood and hit the spot. So with Valentine's Day fast approaching, now's the time to think about celebrating in style with a bottle or two of bubbly delight!
Taittinger is a world-renowned, award-winning Champagne House, with origins dating back to 1734. The company was purchased by Pierre Taittinger in 1931 after he fell in love with the region while stationed there during World War I and today is run by his grandson, Pierre-Emmanuel and his family. Thus, unlike almost all other Champagne Houses, Taittinger continues to be owned and managed by the family whose name is on the label. Based in Reims, the company is the second largest 'Domaine' owner in the region with 288 hectares of vineyards in some of the best sites of the region, including the prestigious Côte des Blancs.
Taittinger's home is situated above miles of chalk tunnels and cellars. These 4th century Roman cellars also once belonged to the Benedictine monks of St. Nicaise Abbey and are perfect for the slow ageing process required for great Champagne. More recently, Taittinger became the first Champagne House to invest directly in the UK, purchasing 69 hectares of land in Kent, in order to establish a vineyard for the production of premium English sparkling wine.
The company's renown is reflected by its annual production figures across the full range of cuvées, which currently equate to more than 6 million bottles sold in over 140 countries worldwide.
The hallmark of Taittinger Champagnes is the high percentage of Chardonnay, from 40% in the Brut Réserve Non Vintage to 100% in the prestigious Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Chardonnay is a grape variety that when used well can provide a tantalising combination of elegance, delicacy and finesse. These characteristics represent the house style, creating wines that demonstrate purity, lightness and complexity. It was, therefore, with some delight that I was asked if I wanted to review two of their non-vintage cuvées - the Prestige Rosé Brut and the Brut Réserve. Was that a difficult decision? Hell no!!!
Taittinger Prestige Rosé Brut NV (RRP: £48.20)
45% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier
Its alluringly bright, salmon pink colour immediately stands out and hints at the intensity of aromas and flavours that awaits. The vibrant colour is due to the fact that 15% of still red wine produced from the best Pinot Noirs from Montagne de Reims and Les Riceys is added to the ﬁnal blend. The nose is fresh and clean with aromas of red berries and cherries plus a hint of spice. On the palate, the red fruit notes continue in abundance in perfect balance with the refreshing acidity. So to set the mood for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, this will work beautifully as an apéritif or, alternatively, save it for a fruit-based dessert.
Taittinger Brut Réserve NV (RRP: £39.95)
40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier
Grapes are sourced from over 35 prime vineyards in the Champagne region to produce this signature cuvée of the House. Produced from 95% first pressings of the three grape varieties, it also includes a proportion of reserve wine to ensure consistency from year to year. The enticingly golden colour and fine bubbles set the scene, but the relatively high proportion of Chardonnay is key, delivering finesse on the nose and palate. Aromas of white flowers, stone fruit and green apple lead on to a palate with similarly fruity characteristics complemented by a delicate vanilla-tinged creaminess plus a touch of biscuit and honey. The finish is fresh, dry and long. Again, this Champagne can be drunk as an apéritif, but would also pair well with light chicken or fish dishes, canapés and, of course, smoked salmon.
Both these non-vintage Champagnes have been aged on their lees for three years (the minimum period for vintage Champagne), thus providing extra flavour, roundness and complexity, while dosage is 9g/l. (Note: to be labelled 'Brut', the Champagne has to have a residual sugar level of less than 12 g/l). They are widely available from multiple and independent retailers, as well as online.
So there we are, two styles of Taittinger Champagne that epitomise a sense of occasion – elegant, refined and perfect for a celebration. Valentine's Day is just the reason you need to enjoy a taste of tradition from this legendary Champagne House and to clink a glass or two with your loved one. Enjoy the bubbles!
This article is also available on The Alcohol Professor website.