Barbara Drew MW on prestige cuvée Champagne


A selection of prestige cuvée Champagnes

Barbara Drew MW selects the most memorable prestige cuvée Champagne enjoyed at various points throughout her career and personal life, and highlights a handful of bottles which would be perfectly suited to any festive celebration.

Prestige cuvée Champagne: three words that are impossible to say without both joy and a certain smartness; a phrase that turns even the thickest brogue into something finely polished. The first prestige cuvée Champagne was designed for Tsar Alexander the II, and was meant as an incredibly special wine, for an incredibly special royal. 144 years after Cristal was first created, I like to imagine the magic remains. When you drink a prestige cuvée Champagne you become a VIP, and they make the most mundane occasion special. These are also the bottles we save and savour for iconic moments. Not just for birthdays and anniversaries, these are the bottles that mark defining moments in our lives; and the wine and the moment become intertwined into a 365-degree multi-sensory experience.

I am lucky enough to have tasted many wonderful wines during my career, but those that will remain in my memory longest are undoubtedly beautiful Champagnes, enjoyed at beautiful moments.

My most memorable Champagnes

2002 Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs

A rare, and slightly unusual prestige Champagne. This is only ever a single-vintage wine, and comes from one vineyard. Very much a wine of a specific time and a specific place, I opened my first and only bottle of this wine in September 2017, the day I discovered I had passed my MW exams. I had made a pact (with myself) during the long summer of early starts, blind tastings before breakfast and endless essays, that, should I pass all my exams first-time (something few MWs achieve), I would treat myself to a bottle of this wine – one that I had always wanted to taste. Despite being one of the most beautiful wines ever created, the setting was worlds apart from what the winemaker no doubt wanted; poured into slightly grubby wine glasses and shared with my colleagues standing round the photocopier, it was still one of the most enjoyable glasses of wine I have ever tasted.

2004 Sir Winston Churchill, Pol Roger

It was a glorious late summer day, full of sunshine. We had the keys to our new house, and a bottle of lightly chilled 2004 Churchill in the boot. Alas, what we didn’t have was furniture or crockery, much less glassware. The movers had taken so very long to take our stuff out of the old place that they had downed tools for the day, promising to return on the morrow with all our belongings. All we had with us was a small box containing a kettle, a couple of mugs, some teabags, and the aforementioned Champagne. Undeterred, we opened it nonetheless. Sat in the garden with takeaway pizza (pepperoni; it went remarkably well with the umami undertones in the Champagne) we drank our prestige cuvée Champagne from mugs. It was perfect.

Magnum of 2004 Own Selection Grand Cru Champagne by Mailly

Not strictly a prestige cuvée Champagne, but everything feels more special when served from a large-format bottle, and to this day our own Champagne made by Mailly is still one of my favourites. To celebrate a “significant” birthday for my mother, the entire Drew clan headed to Spain a few years back, hiring out a wonderful farmhouse for a long weekend. We had planned a special birthday meal, and, despite Spain producing exquisite sparkling wines of its own, we felt Champagne was most appropriate for the occasion. I dutifully threw out most of my sandals from my suitcase to make way for this magnum of Champagne. It kicked off a most wonderful birthday evening, so delightful my mother wanted to bring the oversized bottle home as a souvenir. Fortunately, we managed to persuade her to settle for just the cork.

Prestige cuvée Champagnes for Christmas

2007 Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs

One of the finest Blanc de Blanc Champagnes produced, the 2007 Comtes de Champagne has a perfect balance between creamy, nutty flavours, and a fresh, citrus and orchard fruit. The brioche and butter finish goes on and on.

2002 Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs

18 years old and still spectacularly young, this pure, fresh and mineral wine astounds with its gentle aromas that build in intensity, complexity and power. Each sip reveals something different. A wine to inspire storytelling.

2009 Pol Roger, Sir Winston Churchill

Whilst the exact blend of grapes is never published, Pinot Noir features heavily in this wine, lending a weight and intensity of red fruit flavour, something often lacking in blanc de blancs Champagnes. The 2009 was a vintage that Hubert de Billy, Director of Champagne Pol Roger describes as “a vintage for drinkers” – meaning there is no need to keep this one in your cellar for another 20 years before popping the cork.