Champagne expert Kyla Kirkpatrick, Founder of The Champagne Dame and Emperor Champagne shares her tips to drinking champagne for the bubbly enthusiast.
How did you get your title as ‘Champagne Dame’?
To be perfectly honest, it started as a nickname that one of my friends gave me when I started my career in champagne. In 2005, I came across an article on Napoleon Bonaparte and his friendship with a young Jean Remy Moët, which triggered a stint of reading every book I could find on Champagne. The complex story and rich history behind Champagne captured my imagination, but there was a book in particular which I was really drawn to. The Art and Business of Champagne by Dan Ginsburg combined two of my big interests: Business and Champagne.
I decided to handwrite a letter to this gentleman asking him a list of questions and in an unexpected twist, I received a letter back from him inviting me to go to France and study with him. I left a successful career in banking and finance and bought a one way ticket to France and completely reinvented myself.
Eight months later I was approached by one of the largest Champagne houses in the world and was invited to become a brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy’s Champagne brands including Clicquot, Krug, Dom Perignon and Moët and Ruinart. My friend, who was working in advertising at the time, started calling me The Champagne Dame and the word spread! A few years later in 2008 I decided it was time to start my own business and naturally that’s what I called it. I’m probably better known now as the Champagne Dame than I am by my real name.
In 2013 you started the Champagne Insider Tours visiting Paris and the Champagne region in France. With Covid-19, how has this affected your business and what have you done to still spread the knowledge of the masterclass?
Our four 2020 Insider’s Champagne Tours were sold out and we were even considering opening more dates to be able to meet the demand. With Covid-19 however, we have had to postpone all tours, which is extremely disappointing. What made this year even more special is that we were going to also be celebrating my 15th anniversary of working in Champagne while there. It’s actually the first year in two decades that I won’t be spending the summer in France. I really missed my beloved Champagne region.
To stay in contact with our wonderful and loyal customers, we have ‘pivoted’ to hosting Virtual Tastings, and I have to say it has been quite surprising just how much fun we are having. I hosted my first virtual masterclass online last month and we had over 3,500 people joining in from all over the world! The feedback was excellent, and we decided to schedule a series of virtual champagne tastings with the winemakers. Over the next few weeks, I will be presenting with Rodolphe Frerejean-Taittinger, Antoine Roland-Billecart and other fascinating champagne experts. Stay tuned.
We all have a favourite bubble but it is always hard to choose. What would you say is your favourite champagne pairing with food you enjoy?
Oh wow, that’s hard. I get to taste so many amazing champagnes every day (I know, tough life). Over the 300 cuvees that we stock at Emperor Champagne, I really enjoy the house of Charles Heidsieck, especially their Blanc de Blancs. I also love the house of Gosset, which happens to be the oldest wine house in Champagne. We featured their Vintage 2013 in our Club last month and we were all blown away.
What should people consider when choosing champagne?
A few things come to my mind. First, the blend: is it a Brut, a Blanc de Blancs, a Rose? This relates to the type of grapes used. For example, in a Blanc de Blancs, only the Chardonnay grape is used. The taste will be fundamentally different from one blend to another. And to know which one you like the most, there is only one solution: try them all!
Second, you should probably consider the type of event. Is it a girlfriend’s birthday, fun night out or a family dinner? If you are looking for something to pair with an aperitif, I would go with a Blanc de Blancs. For a dinner, probably choose a Rose as it goes usually goes amazingly well with most foods.
If your friends happen to be wine connoisseurs, you might want to impress them with a beautiful selection of grower champagnes instead of the usual big brands.
How should champagne be served?
First rule: use the right glassware! Throw the skinny flutes to the bin and start using appropriate champagne glasses: the tulips. So much time, energy and passion are delivered into every bottle of champagne, drinking it from a flute dulls all its aroma and complexity. The large tulip shape creates a symphony of flavour with a larger base, allowing the champagne to breathe. The temperature should be around 9 to 10 degrees Celsius.
How would you describe the difference between Artisanal vs Biodynamic vs Organic Champagne?
Artisanal Champagne is also known as “Grower Champagne”. Instead of selling their grapes to the big established houses, some winemakers, “Growers” choose to craft their own champagne with them. They are called “Récoltant-Manipulant” is the term in French and can be identified by “RM” on the wine label. Grower champagne is trendy as people increasingly look for more diversity within the champagne world.
Biodynamic Champagne is focused on the health of the soil and the vineyard. The winemaker monitors the effect of the moon on plant growth and has to follow a number of formulas from Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, which are highly technical, to be able to be certified Biodynamic. It is basically going back to the ‘old ways’ of doing things, more traditional.
Organic Champagne is made using only certified organic grapes, grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers.