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A drink with… Idris Elba

Following the launch of a new rosé Champagne from his brand Porte Noire, internationally renowned actor Idris Elba talks to Natalie Earl about his foray into Champagne, the potential for English sparkling wine, and bringing Champagne back down to earth.

‘It wasn’t really a conscious choice to be part of a Champagne brand. Champagne Sanger invited me to come out to see its Champagne school. This was seven years ago. The students wanted to meet me, and the students are the story really. And I thought, what a lovely invite, to go to one of the oldest winemaking schools in Champagne.

‘I said to my wife – who I was dating at the time – do you want to come to Champagne? It sounded very romantic. We had this incredible, full, rich day of history, skill, sharing, and the students were really happy to see me. I learnt how to twist the bottles [riddling], and all about the cuvées and the vineyards. And we topped it off in one of the vineyards eating cheese and drinking Champagne. At the end of the day, they said “we want you to own your own cuvée”. At first I thought, you mean take a few home? I had a big trunk. And they said “no, you’ll have your own, we produce it, we have these lovely batches of grand cru, and you can name it and do what you want with it”.

‘My personal favourite is the Porte Noire vintage grand cru. Bad Champagne gives me a residual effect the next day. Finely produced Champagne doesn’t. When you realise that alcohol suppresses your nervous system, you don’t want to put any old liquid in your body! Beyond Champagne, I like a Syrah, heavy and bold.

‘We haven’t really marketed ourselves around me and celebrity wines. It’s got my name on it, but we haven’t pushed that element. Celebrity wines tend to have a more transactional approach… the thinking is volume, volume, volume. With our grand cru, there is a volume capacity we can reach, and that’s it. So we are a little bit more in tune with people finding it, discovering it and liking it, rather than the hard sell.

‘Perhaps I could have a cabinet of Porte Noire drinks that tell interesting stories from interesting winemakers and regions. Often I get to be in different parts of the world where there are always interesting stories behind the wines there. I went to South Africa, and I was really blown away by the selection there and the history of winemaking.

‘The unexpected stories are really interesting to me, and in wine there seems to be quite a few, because it’s attached to the land and where people live, usually. Shockingly, English producers of sparkling wine have great stories. And from a taste profile, it’s getting much better. I’m just saying, I come from England. It would feel odd to have a [Porte Noire] cabinet and not have English sparkling!

‘For me, growing up in a modest background, Champagne was something to aspire towards, popping a bottle if you reached a milestone. Typically these are big moments, marriage, engagements, birthdays, but with Porte Noire, it’s a really good liquid at a very affordable price. So the idea is that it doesn’t have to be as much of a milestone to celebrate, it can be, “I got through my day”. I want people to redesign where and how Champagne is appropriate. Of course it’s nice for celebration moments too.’

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