By Sarah Dheedene
A dive into the classiest drink on the planet, plus a touch of Belgium’s savoir-faire with exotic cocoa beans from around the world. That’s the evening that I recently got to enjoy with Charles-Eric from Alex & Alex and I can definitely tell you it’s an evening you would love.
I’ve always been a bon vivant. I like good food, good drinks and good times enjoyed in good company, but only recently did I discover the world of tastings. And, since then, the way I enjoy food has changed for the better. I no longer eat… I savour. I am paying more attention to the subtle notes in the things I eat, I’ve become pickier when it comes to quality of ingredients, and I’ve refined my taste and discovered my inclination for certain kinds of flavours. My new tasting habits can be boiled down to the idea of “slow food:” eating better and taking more time to actually enjoy the things you put in your mouth.
And, it’s no different with champagne. Much to my distress, champagne is not an everyday drink and, because we tend to reserve it for very special occasions, opportunities to taste different varieties are sparse and thus, it’s hard to compare one type with another or one brand with another. Although, I have to admit, I can’t remember ever encountering a champagne I flat out didn’t like. Something that with wine, on the contrary, has happened far more often than I’d like to admit. With the bubbly elixir, I usually drink every last drop and cast an evil look at any waiter trying to steal my glass with a final sip reamaining. That said, there are important differences between types of champagnes and during the tasting at Alex & Alex, I got my first small glimpse at these subtle nuances.
All your champagne questions… Answered.
We tasted five different champagnes, three diverse chocolates, and ratafia – a sweet spirituous drink made with the grape left over from pressing. Along with the tasting we were provided with an abundance of useful information: everything from the legend around the “coupe” of champagne – supposedly modelled on the breast of Marie-Antoinette – to the level of sugar and the type of grapes, to how to actually open a bottle – with a sword or, more traditionally, and how we had it that day, making the cork pop smoothly. Alex & Alex covered everything you need to know to take even more pleasure out of tasting the luxurious beverage.
At the end of the evening, I was comforted by my original positional: I love champagne. You can offer me any type and I will always accept happily. Though, now, I will be more careful as to which one to drink before or after dinner, and which one to keep for myself. From all the type we tried, the one I liked best was the first, a Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc, Brut. A surprising preference for me. I usually have a sweet tooth but, apparently, go for draughtiness when it comes to champagne. I generally like strong, heavy tastes for wines… but am definitely more inclined to something lighter when the grape-based beverage comes with bubbles. To complete the set of contradictions, my second best was the rosé, and I’m not usually a fan of rosé wine. Then again, the one we were served was of a special kind: a rosé de saignée. Most rosé champagnes are called “rosé d’assemblage” and are a mix of champagne with red wine. This represents 95% of the production. The “rosé de saignée” on the other hand, gets its colour from being put shortly in contact with the skin of the grapes. As this is a very difficult process – the longer the contact with the skin, the more tanning it gets – this represents only 5% of all rosé champagnes.
Chocolate with champagne? Yes, please.
After every two glasses, we were offered a piece of chocolate. But not just any kind of chocolate. One that Alex & Alex made themselves containing a relatively high percentage of cocoa: between 64% and 74%. Each chocolate had a special flavour: salt, raspberry and orange with crystals of caramel. Each chocolate was also dusted with an elegant, colourful powder coating, a different colour for each.
A while back, I heard that red wine and chocolate make a winning combination and I was curious to see if the same would be true of champagne. They definitely pair together perfectly and I’m surprised this duo hasn’t become more trendy amongst foodies.
Once the handmade delicacies were all eaten and the bottles all empty, what was left sparkling were my eyes: excellent products, a knowledgeable guide to help you discover them and cheerful company to discover them with. What’s more? Alex & Alex organises one tasting per month and, if you attend the tasting on a regular basis, they will select the champagne with you in mind in order to make sure you always get to try something new. To book your own private tasting with Charles-Eric from Alex & Alex, click here.