It's time to spring

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the Champagne Now is the time to plan those successful spring wine sales. Short-list a selection, then taste and reduce to a group in which you have...

the Champagne Now is the time to plan those successful spring wine sales. Short-list a selection, then taste and reduce to a group in which you have confidence. Ask suppliers if they will allow a promotional discount or free sample bottles. Consider printing some tent cards as well as using a blackboard and creating a page in the wine list. Champagne is the obvious choice for spring days, not just to be kept for Valentine's Day, birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. A core range would be a Chardonnay-made Champagne (termed "blanc de blancs" as no black grapes are used), a brut non-vintage and a vintage. Both a rosé and a deluxe blend would add diversity. A comparative Champagne or two would encourage customers to purchase more than one in order to experiment, particularly if available by the glass. Ensure the glassware is flute-shaped and that it is really clean, which is vital to enjoying Champagne's delicate character. With several rinsings in really hot water, the bubble or "bead", should be persistent and rise in good straight lines. One tip is to slightly scratch the inside base to help release the bead! Champagne is diverse ­ there are no less than 19,000 vine growers, 260 houses and more than 40 co-operatives. For a Chardonnay-made Champagne that is ideal as a luncheon apéritif, try the floral Henriot, which was founded in 1808, or Nicolas Feuillatte. At the top end, Billecart-Salmon offers a Grand Cru, the term for grapes grown in 100%-rated vineyards. A brut non-vintage should show a round quality that comes from both a skillful blend among villages, vineyards and years, as well as ageing. This means three years or longer, rather than the "green" immaturity seen on young Champagne released just after the legal minimum of 15 months. It was the London clubs of the 19th century who asked the French to produce Champagne with less sugar. Today, the "brut" style is enjoyed globally. R' de Ruinart is a fruity brut, made by the oldest house in Champagne, founded in 1729. For novelty, try Veuve Clicquot in 20cl mini bottles and for traditional quality, enjoy Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale. Vintage Champagne is wine from a single year: often rather one dimensional but, with careful selection, can be splendid. Heidsieck 1996 Gold Top has quite a rich fruity texture, Moët et Chandon 1995 shows a creamy style and Bollinger Grande Annee 1995 has a full-bodied finish. For a rosé, look at the salmon-pink hue of Laurent-Perrier that is achieved by just three days' contact with Pinot Noir grape skins. Equally exciting is Joseph Perrier's Rosé, which shows a raspberry scent derived from adding up to 15% red wine from the village of Cumieres. Deluxe Champagnes are undervalued when one compares leading wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy or even California. Lanson Noble Cuvée shows really skilful blending, not only between grapes, but its selection of vineyards. Louis Roederer Cristal can be disappointing. Too many years are being declared "vintage", so it is essential to taste before purchasing. For elegance, Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, particularly in magnum, has few equals whilst for depth of character, Krug 1988 is superb. Finally, if seeking novelty, do not forget the single grower and individual village Champagnes. Moët have three around £50 covering Ay, Romont and Saran, all Grand Cru. Who could dispute Madame de Pompadour, who said: "Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.

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