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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?