Did you know? Tips on how, when and where to drink Champagne from Martin Dibben21 October 2021
This week, we talk to Martin Dibben, an old friend of Searcys and an expert in Champagne. With a fascinating career spanning everything from the Royal Household to receiving the prestigious Ordre des Coteaux of Champagne, Martin shares tips on how, when and where to drink Champagne (spoiler: there’s never a bad time!).
Hi Martin, thanks so much for chatting with us. How did you end up working in the world of Champagne?
It all started when I was at university… I used to do a lot of work at the racecourses, for the Derby and Royal Ascot, and of course Champagne was a very big thing, even more so than it is now. That’s where I first really started the relationship with the beautiful drink, and then I went on to work for the Royal Household, where I was involved in the food and beverage department. I then went to work for Prue Leith, and her leading wine expert really took the time to tutor me not only in Champagne but in all wines. Then I opened my own restaurant Dibben’s in Smithfield Market, and at this stage, I was invited by the Champagne Academy to study Champagne in Champagne. It was a real honour, because there are 16 Grand Marques, and each of them can only invite one person each year. It’s a truly unique opportunity to taste all the Champagnes from all the different Houses and have the joy of meeting all of them. So that really formed my passion not only for the drink but also for the Champenoise, the people of the Champagne region, who are happy to share their passion for their wine, as long as you enjoy it, regardless of how much you end up buying. Then as I continued, I became the chairman of the Champagne Academy and was awarded the Ordre des Coteaux of Champagne. Now, I have the great honour of being the Seneschal.
Tell us about your role as the Seneschal of the Champagne Order for South England?
The Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne has a mission to promote the variety, versatility, taste and other unique characteristics that make Champagne wines synonymous with success and celebration everywhere. In my role, it’s a bit like I’m the Master of the Household in historic times. So it’s my responsibility for all domestic arrangements, which involve organising dinners and tastings.
And tell us about the work you do with Searcys?
We’re looking forward to celebrating Searcy’s 175th Birthday next year: it’s a great occasion not only to mark the company’s heritage as a great hospitality company but also its relationship with Champagne. Searcys have some great projects they’re planning, many of which highlight the association of Searcys with Champagne. It’s not just that they have the longest Champagne bar in Europe. They also promote and showcase so many interesting Champagnes and take real care of how they’re served, paired, and presented. Then, i’m also working with Bruno Pelletier, Searcys Drinks Ambassador to broaden the courses at its Champagne School to take them to other locations within the Searcys brand.
Searcys Champagne School has been created to showcase the drink’s beauty and features the Grandes Marques and small growers.
What do you wish more people knew about Champagne as a drink?
– The versatility of Champagne. I want people to know there’s a Champagne that’s suitable for every occasion. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea… to Celebrate a birth or marriage, commemorate a person’s life. It brings to mind that famous quote by Lily Bollinger: “I drink Champagne 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.”
– The second thing is to look into the Champagne properly. Just because it has the word ‘Champagne’ on it, try to do a little research, make sure it’s a good Champagne, and work out what characteristics you like.
– Finally, it’s not always about the big names. Some places like Lidl and Aldi sometimes have a very, very high quality at a very good price as their own brand house Champagne. So I would encourage people to try..
Why is Champagne such a celebratory drink, do you think?
I have a good answer for that! It’s because the bubbles get the alcohol quickly into your bloodstream, so it gives you a very good effect and gets the party going almost from that first sip. This is why in Absolutely Fabulous when she has a ‘Stolly Bolly’ with Champagne topped up with a bit of vodka, it goes straight to your head.
What about vintages?
The best Champagnes to drink are vintage ones because you can never get a hangover from them. It’s just one of those miraculous things. I think it’s because it’s laid in the cellars for much longer, so the impurities are taken out.
How do you go about selecting the perfect Champagne for an event?
It’s not just about budget but thinking about when and with what you are drinking your champagne. In the summer you might like to go for a rosé, or a lighter style Champagne with something like Searcys own Rosé, whereas in winter you might want something biscuity like Veuve Clicquot.
What are your best tips for serving Champagne – glassware, pour, bottle size etc?
In terms of glasses – more and more now we’re coming round to the idea that it should be drunk not in a flute but in a white wine glass, one that you’d maybe choose for Sauvignon, as you can taste it much better. If you can, always serve it from a magnum. It’s the perfect volume so it matures best in this style bottle, plus it’s fun. When we taste really old vintages, we sometimes use red wine glasses. Coupes are fun, why not, but it’s not technically the best way to drink Champagne.
What about pairing Champagne with food? What do you think goes particularly well with it?
I have a process I always stick with. When you’re pairing it with food – taste the Champagne first. Then taste the dish. Then drink another sip of Champagne. The Champagne should taste exactly the same. Certain foods and spice can make the fizz taste unpleasant afterwards. I like to choose my Champagnes then find food to go with it, rather than the other way round.
Fish often goes very well, as do creamy desserts like panna cotta. We did a tasting once where we had raspberries, and from the initial tasting to the dinner, the raspberries became much sweeter as it was later in the season, so everything changed. Truffle is also great with Champagne.
It’s interesting if a restaurant chooses to serve a less well-known but carefully chosen Champagne, and I think it says a lot about the establishment.
In Searcys we are always trying to develop the relationship between our customers and the range of Champagnes we serve.