Eating & Drinking: Tooth enamel stripper

FIRST, let's get in touch with our feelings through frank, open dialogue. I begin by saying, "Last Wednesday I spent 90 minutes in a room with several hundred open bottles of Champagne." You say, "I hate this guy and I want his job." I say, "I was tasting, not drinking, and it's not as much fun as it sounds." You say, "Pull the other one." I say, "Will you please let me explain?" You say, "You've got 30 seconds."

OK, 30 seconds starting now. Champagne is a highly acidic wine, and prolonged tasting strips tooth enamel as effectively as coarse-grain sandpaper. It is also, unless you're a seasoned expert, difficult to taste so many with discrimination. Moreover, the tasting room was unbearably crowded. It is not fun fighting through a scrum of bodies who all need access to a finite number of bottles and (more important) spittoons. Some people spit and pour away leavings with an astonishing disregard for the laundry bills of their fellow man and woman. And spitting Champagne, as eminent wine writer Charles Metcalfe suggests, is messier than spitting still wine: the fizz makes for a frothily unruly stream.

Was that 30 seconds? Maybe. Anyway, now that the unconvincing anguish is concluded, I can tell you that this was an interesting tasting. And an important one, if you can apply that adjective to a tasting, because Champagne is a Big Subject in the run-up to You-Know-What. The Champagne industry is expecting us to buy and swill their products in record quantities - about 30 million extra bottles, bringing 1999 sales worldwide up to around 315 million. Since UK sales in 1998 reached a new record of 24.2 million bottles, this year should see an increase to about 27 million.

To accommodate our thirst for fizz, the Champagne industry has done the decent thing: they've raised their prices. Some producers have hiked 'em by as much as 25 per cent, though increases from the big houses are still within single digits. And while I hear anecdotal evidence of some retailers and producers planning major price hikes as Y2K approaches, the multiples I've talked to think the increases have mostly happened. With stocks of 960-odd million bottles, there's no rush to buy in the hope of beating (a) inflation or (b) a dry Champagne well.

But there is another reason to rush out, and that is the imminent depletion of older vintages. Wines from 1988 and 1989 are nearly extinct. Stocks of 1990 are heading that way, very rapidly in some cases. And having focused my attention at the scrum on vintage wines, I can say with certainty that a stark message came through the dissolved tooth-enamel: if you want vintage Champagne for your Millennial celebration, buy 1988-1990 while they're still there.

That's obvious, since vintage Champagne needs at least a decade in bottle before it reaches maturity. But it's even more compelling now because most houses will soon be moving on to 1991. Some have moved already, and some are even selling 1993 or 1995, for heaven's sake. Few wines from these years are anything like ready to drink. They are also not as good as '88 to '90.

So, which should you buy? The easy answer, and it's not a crazy one, is: any of them, especially 1990, which was a vintage from heaven. But this is not especially helpful, so here is a partial list of four less famous names: Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1990 (Oddbins and others, about pounds 35, 0181 405 6345 for stockists); Canard-Duchene 1990 (Oddbins, Majestic and others, about pounds 22, 0171 887 1800 for stockists); Jacquesson Signature 1989 (about pounds 40, 0171 329 8899 for stockists); Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale 1990 (about pounds 25, 01572 823030 for stockists). NB: I tasted Canard-Duchene 1991and it was excellent. NB: If I had to choose one, it would be Billecart. NB again: see below for further Champagne slaverings.

Final suggestion: if you love vintage Champagne as much as I do and have the means of buying and storing in bulk (which I, sadly, do not), grab a few cases. These wines are built to last. Final question: will we be buying as much of the stuff as the industry hopes? No one knows. Judith Candy, of Tesco, says they expect to have about 10 per cent more Champagne on 1 December, 1999 than they had on the same date last year. Obviously they're hoping to sell it all. But she admits: "We're all in a guessing game." And a hoping game, she might have added.

To drink now

Prestige Cuvee Champagnes are priced for cocaine barons and Bill Gates. But when they're good, watch out. Scrum Wednesday presented me with my first taste of Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, named after PR's most prominent fan. I am in love. My notes conclude by saying: "nothing stands out because it's all perfect". Telephone 01432 262 800 for stockists; say goodbye to pounds 75. Current vintage is 1988, and they'll soon be moving on to 1990, which should be even better. If pounds 75 is impossible, Pol Roger's Brut 1990 (stocks "under pressure") possesses delicacy, elegance, and a pounds 35 price-tag.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee