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Recommendation – The Champagne Concept – Harrogate

Now I will, as always, be up front. The Champagne Concept was opened late last year by my great friends Gemma and Laurence Page-Connolly (you may remember that I baked afternoon tea for their Wedfest) but I wouldn’t blow the trumpet of anyone or anything that I didn’t genuinely recommend and this is no exception. I love the Champagne Concept and now I’ve bought a car, I cannot wait to get up to Harrogate more often to hang out there. 

Harrogate, if you don’t know it, is the jewel of Yorkshire. Its a cracking little (quite large) town to spend the weekend with lovely buildings, loads of independent shops, restaurants (and the usual chains) and gorgeous scenery on your doorstep. You can get there by direct train from London Kings Cross on the East Coast Mainline in under 3 hours. Most trains do however require a change in York or Leeds but still get you there in around 3 hours. The little local shuttle trains which you connect on are a hark back to the 70’s and luxury travel shouldn’t be expected!

If you can’t pop up to Harrogate for the weekend (you really should), then you’re still in luck – keep reading, be inspired and then check out their Online Shop! If you want to send a friend a lovely gift, they also sell gift certificates including for tastings and brunch.

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So what is the concept then I hear you cry? In simple terms its about bringing small and boutique grower produced champagnes to the UK which aren’t otherwise available. Forget your Moets, Cristals and Veuve’s, compared to the champagnes on offer here, they’re all the equivalent of a loaf of slightly stale Lidl white sliced while these are more akin to a lovingly crafted artisan sourdough from an independent baker, fresh from the oven.

‘It must be so expensive!’ I hear you holler. Nope. Not really. Prices for full size bottles start at £28.00. Even cheap old me thinks that’s pretty decent value.  Half size bottles for around £18.00 are available in the shop.  There is also a discount of 10% when buying 3 or more bottles and 15% when buying 6 or more.

The remainder of the concept revolves around tasting.  Think about the last time you had champagne – a glass or two at a swanky event maybe or a celebratory bottle popped for a birthday toast perhaps? Then think of the time before that. And the time before that…I’m betting that for all but the most decadent of you (and those who don’t know Gemma and Laurence personally) there was a fairly decent gap between occasions. Then think if you  can remember the difference between the different champagnes you had. (I’m so uncouth, I can barely tell the difference between Lambrini, Prosecco and tea with a time gap, never mind champagnes). I’m going to bet again that you probably can’t and that you think champagne tastes like champagne. It turns out that when you try more than one side by side, they can be quite wildly different. Like, really different!

And so the shop has a seating area and a tasting menu for you to sit down, relax and try out the range on offer.  Whenever I go and do a tasting, my reaction is usually (again uncouth) “Cor that’s so tasty!” It turns out I quite like the oak aged ones – with ‘notes of sherry’ like this one.  (I’ve ordered a bottle for Christmas Day). They really are truly tasty.

Tasting flights start at £15.00 for 3 x 75ml glasses (a usual glass is 125ml if that puts it in context – these are no measly morsels) and go up to £50.00 for 2 people to try 10 champagnes. (and in December there is a £70.00 ’12 Champagnes of Christmas’ tasting as a cheeky extra!).  Thats quite a challenge even in my boozy book! I watched an elderly couple work their way through 10 glassed a couple of weeks ago and I have to admit they kept their ends up pretty well!  All the champagnes are also available by the glass.

Popcorn is provided as a palate cleanser and you can order very light snacks like baguette or oatcakes and cheese to accompany your drinks.  Whilst there is no onsite kitchen, there is Baltzersens, a super friendly Nordic inspired cafe next door who team up with the Champagne Concept to provide a fabulous looking Champagne Brunch with a choice of hot dishes including waffles, 2 glasses of champagne, a glass of fruit juice, and unlimited tea and coffee. All for £20.00. I know I’m starting to sound like a paid for advert but come on – 20 quid for 2 glasses of champagne, a hot brunch, juice and unlimited hot drinks? I’d struggle to just get a decent brunch and a couple of coffees around these parts for that price.

 The Champagne Concept shop is relatively small but they have also teamed up with another local venue; North Bar to offer larger groups a package including a tasting, buffet nibbles and a drink after in the bar. A nice classy start to a hen party or birthday celebration if ever I heard of one.

They also put on special events a few times a year. They recently hosted a ’12 Days of Christmas’ event which included a special tasting of 12 champagnes and festive nibbles all for £35.00 each.

There is also a party happening on New Year’s Eve (2016) which will likely be featuring a very special guest (me!). £50.00 a ticket including 5 full glasses of champagne, party tunes (courtesy of an actual proper jukebox) and with wine, beer and of course champagne available to buy on the night. It’ll make a nice change for me and a step up from last years ‘party’ involving a solo jigsaw, fluffy socks and Jools Holland on the TV!

Other one off events generally involve one of the shop’s champagne producers flying over from France to conduct a special tasting evening of that grower’s champagnes. As if Laurence and his staff aren’t knowledgeable enough (they really are, I learn something new every time I look at them) I do love to get the inside track.

I’ve said it before above and I’ll say it again, I know I sound a little like I’m on the Champagne Concept marketing board and I guess I sort of am (unpaid!) but its purely voluntary and whilst I really want Gem and Laurence do well, I’m also absolutely sold on the concept (even if I wasn’t initially sold on the name – shhhh!). And tasty tasty reasonably priced unique champagnes. Plus one day if they do really really well, I’m hoping for employment at the spin off ‘The Champagne Tea Concept’. A girl can dream!

 Oh and did I mention that there is an Online Shop! I did? Whoops!

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