Bubbling Over With Love For Champangne
The holiday season is in full swing, and if you’re like me there will be Champagne flowing at every party that you attend.
Champagne is one of my favorite things to drink. Lilly Bollinger, the great lady of the house, is quoted as saying, “I only 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 in a hurry and drink it when I am; otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty.” And Napoleon Bonaparte said, “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.”
Those are just two famous quotes that many of you probably already know. But there is more than just fame and fizz behind the greatest sparkling wine in the world.
Did you know that Dom Pierre Perignon, the famous monk who has somehow been given the mythical credit of being the first to create Champagne, tried his best to take the sparkle out of the wine? There are historical records from his abbey in Hautvillers where he had tried to reduce the amount of secondary fermentation because, at the time, the glass being used was so weak that bottles often exploded and were hazardous to other monks whose responsibility it was to bottle, store and transfer the wine.
Thankfully he never succeeded, and even more thankfully he did give us the art of the master blender. He became so renowned for his ability to blend wine from different grapes and vineyard sites to create a masterfully complex wine that orders for his wine came from the far corners of Europe. Thus, the Tete de Cuvee from Moet et Chandon is a tribute to the man who actually failed.
Champagne is the only Rose in all of France for which the winemaker is allowed to blend still red wine to still white wine to create the color. All other Rose are made by the saignee or “bleeding” method, where red grapes are kept in contact with the must for a short period of time and the juice is run off or “bled” off from the tank or vat until the winemaker decides that the amount of color is enough for the resultant wine. There are a few Champagne producers who like to be the exceptions, so you will undoubtedly find Rose Champagnes that also are made by the saignee method, such as Rene Geoffroy, Jean Vesselle and Larmandier-Bernier. And whomever you ask which is the better way to make Rose Champagne, they will say it is their own.
One thing that has always perplexed me about Champagne is that it is taxed at a higher rate than still wine. Most people are unaware that in Hawaii a 9-liter case of still wine is taxed at about $4. However, for the same amount of Champagne (and other sparkling wines), the state charges a $5.50 tax. Historically, the proof or content of alcohol in the wine was the measure by which the wine was taxed, as well as the quantity. But Champagne generally has less alcohol than most still red wines today. Alcohol kills yeast at elevated levels, so if a wine is already too alcoholic, it won’t make for a good sparkling wine. Or it won’t make a sparkling wine at all. Does this mean that the government wants us to drink less Champagne? Or does it know that we love it so much that it
wants to take advantage of our lust for it? There must be some reason, but it has not been fully explained to me.
Nonetheless, I will never stop drinking Champagne. My fascination for it knows no end and neither does my thirst for the best of it. Just as Sir Winston Churchill stated, “I am easily satisfied with the very best.”
Recommendations: NV Laurent Perrier Brut Rose ($99) Heavenly stuff here. It is broad and elegant with nuances of citrus, berries and a flavor and aftertaste that penetrate not only the palate but into the brain. 2011 Champalou Vouvray ($17) Whenever I want something simply vivacious and refreshing without having to think about it, this is my “goto” wine. Chenin Blanc has all the verve of Sauvignon Blanc but with more honey and honeysuckle and less tropical fruitiness. This example is my ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email firstname.lastname@example.org m or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.