From finance to fine wine: Islander has perfect pairing for your palate
Whether you are bringing a bottle to a New Year’s party or hosting a get-together, choosing what bubbly to buy can be an onerous task.
For many, nothing complements a tipsy rendition of Auld Lang Syne better than a glass of champagne, but what French sparkling wine do you go for and what glass should you use to drink it?
The choices don’t stop there, with many pretenders to the French throne on the market, including the Italian sparkling wine of prosecco and the Spanish export of Cava.
Unlike cheddar cheese, you can only call sparkling wine by that name if it is made in the Champagne region of France.
However, the nuances of champagne extend well beyond naming rights, so we asked Will Berresford, corporate tastings and business development manager at Love Wine, to give us some guidance on behalf of all JEP readers with a thirst for knowledge.
A member of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne – one of the oldest champagne clubs in the world – Will is well-versed in all wine-related matters.
‘People should celebrate any way they want, whether that is with wine, sparkling wine, cocktails or even beer, but champagne is a great celebratory drink,’ says Will (37), who lives at Portelet and has been working for Love Wine for the past four-and-a-half years.
Love Wine is an independent Jersey wine merchant which started out as an e-commerce website at the end of 2011, and in 2013 it merged with the well-established drinks wholesaler, AC Gallie.
The business boasts a boutique shop and warehouse on Longueville Road and they also deliver hand-selected wines, spirits and craft beers, via the Love Wine website.
They stock wines from across the world and stock many bottles from several of the major champagne houses, including Nicolas Feuillatte, Duval-Leroy and Bollinger.
At the risk of appearing uncouth, we ask Will whether these famous fizzy French wines greatly vary in flavour.
‘Absolutely. You have vintage champagnes and non-vintage champagnes. The latter are taken from multiple years and the vintage ones are taken from a specific year.
‘Non-vintage champagnes are generally fresh tasting, like a bowl of fresh fruit. Vintage champagnes tend to have more developed characteristics and a deeper depth of flavour.’
As we all know, carbon dioxide gives champagne its sparkle, but how are the beverages infused with fizz?
‘First, a still wine is made out of the grape varieties that are allowed to be grown in the Champagne region of France,’ explains Will, who was born and raised in Derbyshire and moved with his parents to Jersey when he was eight.
‘They can use a single variety or a blend of those grapes. There are seven approved grape varieties – chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane and petit meslier.
‘The traditional method is to then add a little liquor juice – called liqueur de tirage. It consists of a blend of fine sugar cane or beet which has been dissolved in wine and it’s added along with yeast. The liqueur de tirage can vary in sugar level, which equates to different sweetness levels in different champagnes.
‘The bottle is then capped, the yeast eats the sugar and the by-product is carbon dioxide.’
Will says that after this secondary fermentation, a non-vintage champagne must be left to mature for a minimum period of 15 months, and vintage champagnes for a minimum of three years.
‘About 90 psi – pounds per square inch – of pressure builds up in the bottle, approximately the pressure in a double-decker bus tyre.’
Although champagnes vary in price, when the credit crunch enforced financially straitened times on consumers, people looked for cheaper alternatives – and prosecco was chief among them.
‘That name is taken from the Italian region of Prosecco, in the north east of the country, where the prosecco grape, known today as glera, is used.
‘It is made using a cheaper method (called Charmat) but there is still quality in prosecco and since 2008, prosecco has been seen as a recession “champagne”.’
Then there is Cava, a ubiquitous sight on supermarket shelves and often viewed as one of the most affordable options.
‘Cava, which is made in the north east of Spain, has tended to be the forgotten sparkling wine, but actually Cava is coming back a little bit in popularity.’
The expertise of Will and the rest of the team at Love Wine has helped the business blossom, and it was shortlisted for the Decanter UK Small Retailer of the Year award this year.
‘We’re a young company, so to get shortlisted is a huge thing for us. We’re a fresh, innovative brand, we love what we’re doing, we have a lot of fun and we want to move this market forward.’
Will has an enormous knowledge of the wine industry and he talks extensively and enthusiastically about the rules and regulations in every wine-making country. There are maps and charts on the wall of Love Wine’s boutique shop denoting the world’s wine territories – but Will, the well-travelled chap he is, already seems to have all that information to hand in his head.
This year alone he has frequented three continents on business.
‘We’ve had a great travelling year – we’ve been to Australia, California, Provence and Bordeaux in France, and Italy. This year has been incredibly beneficial in terms of our first-hand knowledge of wineries and vineyards.’
He adds: ‘There’s no point in us simply stocking wine on our shelves. We want to bring back the stories behind the wines and the wine-makers. It’s impossible for us to do that with all of our wines, but where we can, we will. We are there to pass on that story and that lifestyle.’
The story behind Will’s own wine odyssey did not begin until well after his student days, although he did work in the student union bar at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College – where he graduated with an honours degree in landscape design.
However, the only slopes Will had grand designs on were those in the French Alps, so it was skis, not secateurs, that took his fancy.
‘I did two winter ski seasons in the Alps, working in chalet hospitality,’ says Will. ‘I would look after between ten and 15 people at a time, cooking, cleaning and hosting families.
‘And during the middle of the day, I would be out skiing or snowboarding.
‘It was about coming out of your comfort zone and learning how to live – and it was a lot of fun at the same time. I was in my early twenties and we were burning the candle at both ends all the time.’
He adds: ‘At that time I enjoyed wine, but the wine in ski chalets was pretty mediocre back then.’
His taste for fine wine matured after he began working in the finance industry.
‘When I came back to Jersey my dad said what most dads always say to their sons at some point: “I think you need to get yourself a job mate.”
‘So I got temping work in finance and that progressed over my five or six years at the company to being a senior trust administrator. During my time in finance I was young – 25 to 30 – and earning a comfortable amount, so I was able to enjoy the slightly finer things and I would hold wine-tasting get-togethers with friends.’
Will’s burgeoning interest in the beverage industry led him to take the globally recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust exams and he attained a distinction in the advanced level.
‘I thought, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” so I gave the finance company six months’ notice and after that, went to harvest a vintage in the southern hemisphere.’
He flew to Australia in January 2011 and worked south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, a notable wine region.
‘I got a job working on a ten-acre winery producing pinot noir and chardonnay.
‘I always believe in learning anything from the ground up and this was great because I worked on the vines and the production of the wines all the way to the cellar door.’
After five months in Australia, Will worked in Burgundy before embarking on a sojourn to the south of France, where he worked on two further wine vintages – in Minervois La Livinière and the year after, in Corbières.
‘In La Livinière it was insane – one week I spent 95 hours working in the winery. You are getting up before the sun rises and you’re going to bed well after it’s gone down.
‘The winery work was really physical – shifting 30-kilo baskets of grapes around. You are seeing through the fermentation of the grapes to make wine.’
On returning to Jersey, Will went to work for AC Gallie as a delivery driver – ‘and warehouse chap’ – before Love Wine merged with AC Gallie.
‘Working closely with the team, we started to build the Love Wine brand. Within that brand we have been very successful in introducing new wine brands to the Island – and not only wine.
‘We enjoy wines from all over the world and we specialise in South African wines. We’re always moving forward with new styles of wines and trying to introduce new products to the Jersey market.’
Chief among them is craft beer.
‘There wasn’t a market for craft beer in Jersey and then I went to London, came across BrewDog, tasted it, thought it was amazing and brought it back over here. BrewDog has been very successful here and we’ve introduced a lot of other craft breweries to Jersey, and we have over 50 gins too.’
Although gin is a popular choice for many revellers, champagne bottles will have taken pride of place in most people’s kitchen cabinets during their New Year's Eve celebrations.
The big question is, what should the discerning champagne drinker pour his or her tipple of choice into?
‘The champagne flute is a celebratory-style glass, but it actually doesn’t do any favours for the wine because it’s a very narrow glass so it doesn’t allow the aromatics to travel up to the nose.
‘If you really want to get into your sparkling wine and understand the wine inside, a wider-neck glass is a better option.
‘We taste sparkling wines in wine glasses – and beer in wine glasses – because it’s a better vessel to get the nuances. But on New Year’s Eve people may prefer a champagne flute for the celebratory side of it.’
Will says the advantage of drinking champagne from a flute is that it ‘maintains the fizz better’.
He adds: ‘In a larger glass the bubbles tend to disperse quicker, whereas the flutes are designed to have a nice little bead of bubbles running up through the middle of the glass – and that’s pretty sexy!’
For more information on Love Wine, visit lovewine.je.
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