Champagne is the festive wine par excellence, says Brian Dalkeith Nembhard, president and CEO of Nembo Imports Ltd., a New York- and Caribbean-based importer and distributor of fine champagnes and wines. “It’s one of the most expensive of quality wines.” Nembhard’s company represents brands such as Champagne Montaudon and Dulong/Huet, as well as Thandi, an up-and-coming brand by black producers in Cape Town, South Africa.
Nembhard, 37, who was recently commissioned to reconstruct the wine list for the Ritz Carlton hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica, is most passionate about helping African Americans become knowledgeable consumers of wine and champagne. Here, he offers tasting notes for the budding connoisseur.
The high price and quality of champagne grapes is partly responsible for champagne’s luxury status. Its status is also due to the lengthy, complicated process of Mèthode Champenoise: the process by which Chardonnay, Pinot, and Pinot Meunier grape varieties are blended, explains Nembhard. Liqueur d’expedition is the process of adding wine and sugar to champagne to give it varying degrees of sweetness.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The year inscribed on a bottle’s label identifies the year of the harvest, while other markings classify the champagne by age. Non-Vintage or NV champagne (made with grapes from various harvests) is aged for at least one year, Vintage champagne (made with grapes from a sole harvest and bottled that same year) is aged for three or more years, and Prestige Cuvèe champagne (made with the very best grapes) is aged for five or more years.
STORING AND SERVING
The more explosive the bubbles in a champagne, the higher the quality, says Nembhard. Store your champagne in a dark room at 55 degrees Fahrenheit on a horizontal rack. This prevents the cork from drying out and shrinking.
“Mediocre champagne producers demand high prices simply because their product is grown and produced in the French province of Champagne,” reveals Nembhard. But a leading champagne house “produces great champagne in successive years and consistently fetches high prices around the world.”
KNOWLEDGE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Wine Enthusiast magazine
Wine and Spirits magazine
Wine Spectator magazine
Decanter magazine (UK)
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