Cheers to Champagne

Words Vicki Ravlich-Horan Images Ashlee DeCaires

If you are looking for authentic French fare, La Cave on Riverlea Road in Hamilton is the place to go.  From foie gras to escargot, pastries to cheese and chocolates, plus wine, of course. And you can’t get any more French than Champagne!

We popped in to check out the range and learn a bit more about this famous wine the world has been fizzing over for centuries.

While the method of making Champagne has been replicated around the world, to be called Champagne the wine must come from the Champagne region in France. Just over 120 kms from Paris, Champagne is one of the most northerly wine regions in the world, and covers 34,300 hectares, encompassing 319 villages or ‘crus’.

There are three main grape varieties used to make Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Most Champagnes are a blend of these.
Chardonnay is used for vibrance, floral, and fresh fruity notes, like citrus and apple. Pinot Noir lends some structure and earthiness. Pinot Meunier contributes red fruit flavours, like strawberry and raspberry.

The blend of these grapes results in three common styles:

Blanc de Noir – White Champagnes made from black grapes, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, either blended or on their own.

Blanc de Blanc – The name means white from white grapes; this style is made exclusively from Chardonnay.

Rosé – Produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier red wine to the sparkling wine.


Once you understand the styles and thus the grapes used to make the Champagne, the next clue to what is in the bottle or how dry or sweet the wine will be these terms on the label.

Brut Nature: Also known as Pas Dosé or Dosage Zero, meaning no additional sugar has been added and there is less than 3g per litre of residual sugar.

Extra Brut: Minimal additional sugar added, resulting in a dry wine with only up to 6g per litre of sugars.

Brut: Most Champagne falls in the Brut category, with 12g per litre or less residual sugar.

Extra Dry: Counterintuitively, Extra Dry wines are sweeter than Bruts. These wines have between 12g and 17g per litre of residual sugar.

Sec: Getting sweeter, with 17–32g per litre of residual sugar.

Demi-Sec: Demi-Sec Champagnes are perceptibly sweet and best served as dessert wines, with 32–50g per litre of sugar.


The final detail to note on a bottle of Champagne is whether it is vintage or non-vintage. Champagne is a difficult region to grow grapes, and this means not every year’s harvest is the same. A vintage Champagne is made from the harvest of a single year, instead of being blended with the wines from other years, as in non-vintage. Non-vintage wines allow the wine makers to make a consistent wine, while vintage wines are often from a special year when the grapes were at their best.

To Serve

Now we know how to read the label and pick a Champagne, how best to serve it?

An ice-cold glass of Champagne can be incredibly refreshing, but it won’t offer up much aromatically.  The ideal serving temperature is between 8–10°C, so take the bottle out of the fridge and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Or alternatively from room temperature place the bottle into an ice bath for half an hour.

But what to serve your bubbles in? The 1920s coupe is back on trend, but perhaps keep these for your fancy desserts or espresso martinis. The shallow bowl means that expensive fizz is lost too quickly, plus people tend to hold the bowl of the glass, warming it up.

A traditional tall flute shows off those beautiful bubbles but doesn’t allow you to fully experience the aroma of the wine, which is why many sommeliers opt for a stemmed white wine glass which is a perfect compromise.

It is said to truly experience Champagne, you’ve just got to drink it, so head to La Cave and check out the range to do just that this summer.

La Cave
51A Riverlea Road, Hillcrest, Hamilton



If you’re popping the Champagne cork, what better accompaniment than some French inspired canapés!

Goats Cheese and Tomato Tartines
These fancy toasts can be topped with any number of delicious combos. Minted smashed peas and crispy pancetta is a great one, or truffled or garlic sautéed mushrooms with rocket another.

I picked up a baguette from La Cave along with some soft goat’s cheese.
Slice the baguette and place on an oven tray. Drizzle with some olive oil and bake at a low temperature until the toasts are crispy but not brown. You can store these in an airtight container for up to a week.

For the topping I mixed 1–2 tbsp of sour cream with the goat’s cheese to make it more spreadable.  Smear each toast with the cheese then top with a cherry tomato (fresh or blistered in the oven) and a little drizzle of basil pesto.

Cucumber and Salmon Rillette

Salmon and cucumber are a wonderful match, and with a tin of salmon rillettes from La Cave this is a supe simple canapé to throw together.

Makes 15
½ telegraph cucumber
1 65g tin of Rillettes aux Deux Saumons (from La Cave)
1 tbsp finely chopped gherkin
1 tsp chopped dill, plus extra for garnish.

Slice the cucumber into 15 even discs (approx. 1 cm thick).
Mix the salmon with the chopped gherkin and dill then place a small amount on top of each cucumber slice. Garnish with dill and serve.

Olive Tapenade Palmiers
These traditional pastries get their name from their shape, similar to a palm frond. These savoury versions are deliciously addictive, and that is coming from someone who doesn’t like olives! With that in mind you can make them with a sundried tomato or basil pesto if you prefer.

Makes approx. 60
500g ready rolled puff pastry from Paneton
100g jar of olive tapenade
¼ cup grated parmesan

Cut the pastry in half so that you have two equal pieces, 20cm in length.
Spread the tapenade evenly over each piece of pastry. Half a jar for each piece.
Scatter the parmesan over the tapenade.
Mark the middle of each piece of pastry and tightly roll the pastry up to that middle point. Do the same on the other side so the two rolls meet each other. Place the rolls in the freezer for 10 minutes.
While the pastry is chilling in the freezer, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Take the chilled and hopefully firm pastry rolls out of the freezer and cut with a sharp knife into 1cm pieces. Place on a lined oven tray and bake until golden, approx. 25–20 minutes.

Gingerbread with Pâté and Cherries
Europeans love to blur the sweet and savoury lines, and Brigid from La Cave recommends trying this theory out with some of the sliced gingerbread she stocks.
I grabbed a packet along with a tin of pork pâté and a jar of cherry conserve.

Slice the gingerbread into triangles, place a dollop of pâté on top and then a little cherry conserve.  Garnish and serve.

Instead of the cherry conserve you could use an onion marmalade or fruity relish.



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