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Society & Success

You’re serving champagne wrong

Market Manager East Africa for Moët-Hennessy, Alexandre Helaine, is keen on educating consumers on difference between champagne and sparkling wine. Photo | Courtesy
Market Manager East Africa for Moët-Hennessy, Alexandre Helaine, is keen on educating consumers on difference between champagne and sparkling wine. Photo | Courtesy 

When shopping around for a drink without knowing the difference between champagne and sparkling wine, one might end up picking sparkling wine because the cost is cheaper, says Alexandre Helaine, the market manager East Africa for Moët-Hennessy.

‘‘The price of champagne should be much higher than that of sparkling wine,” he says.

Mr Helaine prefers taking his champagne cold, in a wine glass as opposed to a flute.

Champagne has beautiful flavours which you need to smell as you drink to heighten the experience, something you can’t do in a flute because the circumference is too small. This too is, however, a matter of preference.

“It is a very delicate product that you cannot drink with dishes that are too spicy,” he says.

So as not to overwhelm the taste of champagne, “pair it with sophisticated dishes like fish or sushi. I find oysters to be the best pairing...it is a simply magical experience.”

Drinking champagne is linked to luxury and as Mr Helaine notes, “luxury is linked to history and he believes, one can therefore not always talk about true luxury in relation to a new brand.”

For instance, luxurious watches, are not necessarily the most expensive. It’s about its mechanism, who made it, the details and the passionate team behind it.

So for a drink to be labelled champagne, it has to come from the Champagne region of France and the grape varieties used are typically pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay.

Most of the grapes used to make champagne are hand-picked.

‘‘I visited an underground cellar with about 30 kilometres of champagne bottles. They were placed on a riding table where every day, they are turned by a certain degree by hand. After taking three years to mature a bottle, you should see the excitement on the staff’s faces when a new vintage is unveiled and they get to taste it,” said Mr Helaine, who represents champagne brands such as Dom Perignon, Krug, Moët & Chandon, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot.

Such dedication to crafting the perfect drink is what makes champagne expensive.

“We don’t push people to drink but to help them choose experience,” says Mr Helaine, adding that spend a bit more money on a bottle you will enjoy rather than buying alcohol that you will have to mix it with something else to make it sweeter.

From the 750ml bottles in his portfolio, the most expensive in the Kenyan market is Dom Perignon, the latest being the 2006 vintage that goes for Sh40,000.

Few bottles

There is only a small number of bottles presently allocated for this market. Wine enthusiasts have been known to age expensive bottles of wine and resell at higher prices.

Champagne does not necessarily get better with age but houses like Dom Perignon do vintages in limited quantities.

Savvy enthusiasts have been known to keep bottles to later resell for profit once stocks run out.

With the various champagne bottles available in Kenya, the brand you go for really is just a matter of preference.

With Veuve Clicquot, for instance, the brand pioneered techniques used by houses today (such as riding tables and the first rose champagne). It is a drink with more red fruit flavours, which you get by adding pinot noir.

It therefore has a higher percentage of pinot noir than other champagnes. As for when to take it, Mr Helaine insists that any time is champagne time.

‘‘It is an expensive exercise that if you can afford, you could indulge during breakfast, lunch and dinner, as either an aperitif or digestif,’’ he said.

Champagne typically has 12 per cent alcohol, compared to whisky or cognac which is usually around 40 per cent.

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