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Abi Hirshfeld Golden Magnum Winner - Class of 2007

It was, absolutely, one of the best weeks of my life and one that I will never forget. A lifetime ago in 2007, pre Covid, pre kids, working for Sainsbury’s…

I was a Wine Buyer at Sainsbury’s looking after sparkling, French and Fine Wine amongst other categories, when I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Champagne Academy. I was working with some of the Grandes Marques but couldn’t wait to taste a range of styles from all 16 houses. My excitement was mixed with apprehension at spending the week with 15 strangers and having to take an exam at the end. Any concern quickly fermented into pleasure as the week started, our little group bonded and the Champagne flowed.

I’m not sure that I have enough superlatives to describe my Champagne Academy experience: the sheer deliciousness of the Champagnes but also the chance to taste, drink and compare so many cuvées from the top houses in one week, the privilege of meeting, dining with and learning from Champagne royalty such as Hubert de Billy and just as importantly, the amazing people that I met that week, especially my dear friend, Emma Dawson MW. There were so many special moments, from the revelatory tasting at Charles Heidsieck to the secret bottle of Cristal that was opened just for me at the Roederer dinner.

I was surprised and delighted to be awarded the Golden Magnum. My happiness was only surpassed by my husband’s, who couldn’t wait to get drinking. However, we saved them only for special occasions and it is fair to say that they revolutionised our Christmas drinking for almost a decade! I still have 3 magnums left… 14 years later. I won’t tell you which ones, but I will say that they are 3 of my favourites.

So much has happened since I attended the Champagne Academy. In fact, sitting in my kitchen during this, our third lockdown, it feels like a lifetime ago. Since then, I have been Wine Director at Laithwaites Wine, Buying Director at Berry Bros. & Rudd., had 2 children and have drunk a lot of Champagne. Over the years, I have enjoyed attending Academy dinners and tastings where we have been able to continue cultivating our love of champagne and to share some special bottles with old friends. I am sure that like me, many of us long to be able to get together safely at an event later this year. I imagine a tasting will never be more appreciated! It is fair to say that the Champagne Academy changed my life by giving me a lifelong passion for and interest in Champagne.

What would I recommend to any future candidates? Firstly, savour every second and every drop of Champagne. It is a truly remarkable opportunity to expand your Champagne horizons so try not to waste a second of it. A wise person said to me, try to sum up the individual house style in 3 words during each visit and I’m convinced that is what won me the Golden Magnum. It forces you to really think about the style of Champagne of each house and distilling it down into only 3 words makes it memorable and meaningful. It is something that I still think about today.

“Un immense merci” to the Champagne Academy and to all the Grandes Marques for making this extraordinary week possible for me, and for everyone who is lucky enough to participate.

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