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A Trip to Champagne with Marks & Spencer

Have you ever wondered what makes a really fine Champagne? Well when Marks & Spencer were researching their new house Champagne range, there was no question that they would opt for the best. A brand synonymous with quality and trustworthy products but also innovation and forward-thinking, Marks & Spencer has been a British icon for over 100 years. For me, it’s a company that I grew up with – Percy pigs as a lunch box treat, canapés at Christmas and the place to buy new school supplies annually – so I was absolutely honoured when they invited me to find out just what makes their new champagne so wonderful. 
‘Champagne’ has become a byword for any sparkling wine, but actually a wine isn’t truly champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region and is produced under specific rules and regulations. It’s actually illegal to label a product Champagne if these rules of the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) aren’t adhered to. So of course, Mark & Spencer couldn’t tell me all about their new Delacourt Champagne without taking us to the place where it’s produced…
With the launch being one of their biggest in years, absolutely meticulous research went into selecting the new house champagne which has been created especially for M & S by Elisabeth Sarcalet, winner of Champagne Cellar Master of the Year 2017 and Chef de Caves at Reims-based Champagne house Castelnau. Elisabeth worked closely with Sue Daniels, the M&S winemaker to formulate the perfect blend for their new house champagne.

Sue accompanied us throughout the trip and honestly, I’ve never met someone so passionate and knowledgable about wine. I’ve been on several wine related press trips but I don’t think anyone has ever taught me so much about wine as Sue and her colleague Emma.

Our trip was to take us on a journey of discovery of the Delacourt range starting right from the basics. Many traditional champagne houses depend on buying grapes from growers rather than having their own vineyards so our first stop was a visit to Famille Accaries in Dormans, to meet the grower and see the vineyards that provide the grapes for the Delacourt range.

We met with Pierre who explained that the wine-making tradition had been in his family for generations, bringing a wealth of experience to the production. Their farm covers 17 hectares made up of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the key grapes that go into champagne. The family is dedicated to producing grapes of exceptional quality and were the perfect choice for the new M & S range. 
They also produce their own selection of champagne and we were treated to a peak into their cellars and a sample of one of their signature products. 
The pressing process is also strictly regulated in Champagne so that the quality standards are met and follow particular guidelines. We visited Cooperative de Berru to find out more about these  processes and discovered there are more the 20 criteria that the pressing centre has to adhere to in order to keep with the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) regulations. These include the size and weight of the press, the pressing capacity and daily press loads among many more. The picture above is a traditional press, but nowadays it’s just for decoration as we viewed the rather hardcore metal presses in use today.

Finally it was time to see how all of this comes together as we headed to the Reims-based Champagne house, Castelnau where the Delacourt Champagne is produced. After being introduced to Elisabeth Sarcelet, the mastermind behind the new range, we were taken on a cellar tour. 
I won’t go too deeply into the production process as I’ve actually covered this on my blog before. However in brief, the Chef de Caves, Elisabeth blends still wines to make a base wine which then undergo a second fermentation that occurs in a sealed bottle after sugar and yeast are added. It is this important step that allows carbon dioxide to be trapped in the bottles causing those all important bubbles.

The champagne is left to age in a cool cellar – the best and most expensive champagne will age for over five years. After the aging process comes riddling, this used to be a manual process by which the riddler turns the bottle to remove the dead yeast cells, nowadays this is done by huge machines. Next the bottle is disgorged, the ‘dosage’ is added for taste and then the bottle is corked. When you visit a cellar like this you can see why champagne is so expensive as the whole process is so intricate. 
And now it was time for the bit we’d all been looking forward to; the tasting!! There’s nothing quite like a magnum of Champagne for a special occasion and we kicked off with a glass of Delacourt brut poured from that special 1.5 litre bottle. Of course, Champagne is considered the best drink for a celebration and back in 18th Century France it was exclusively produced and sold to the royal courts of Europe. It is this tradition that inspired the brand name with Delacourt meaning Champagne of the Court.  
When it comes to food pairing, I personally think  champagne compliments the finest caviar just as well as it might compliment your take away pizza. However, I’ve always  loved seafood with champagne and the lobster paired beautifully with the Champagne Delacourt Brut with the flavours of brioche, vanilla and white fruit. We also tried the dish along side the Champagne Delacourt Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2008 Brut which has been made from the finest chardonnay grapes and has that gorgeous flavour of buttered toast.

Main course was turkey, girolle and the freshest asparagus spears alongside Champagne Delacourt medium dry, a sweeter champagne with notes of white peach and sweet spice. 
A dessert of chocolate and strawberries (aka my favourite thing ever) paired perfectly with the Delacourt Rosé NV with it’s notes of raspberry but I can also just imagine Mr S and I sharing a bottle of this over a picnic in the park. It’s really the perfect summer drink. I also totally fell in love with the medium dry rosé which completes the five strong range.
It’s those meticulous processes that go into champagne production that makes it so good and the perfect celebratory drink. But when it comes to enjoying a bottle, throw out the rule book and in the words of Lily Bollinger –

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.
When I have company I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am.
Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

Everyone who knows me will know how much I love Champagne and I couldn’t have been happier to have been invited on this trip. Now when I see the Delacourt range lined up in the local M & S I feel a particular affinity to the brand knowing that I’ve behind the scenes and the amount of passion and care that went into the creation. Thank you Marks & Spencer for taking me along on the journey.

My trip to Champagne was hosted by Marks & Spencer but this is not a sponsored post and thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.