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Sunday, December 30, 2012


Champagne has been around from the 5th century AD.  While the beverage was first produced in France, the Romans might have had more to do with the origination.  For the record, French Benedictine monk Dom Perignon did not invent this drink.  For one, he lived in the period around 1700.

Most countries have now pretty much accepted French pressures that only those sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of the country, east of Paris, and north of Burgandy, can be called champagne, although there are exceptions here and there.  In Spain, this general bubbly wine is called cava, in Italy it is spumante if made from the Muscat grape and prosecco if from the Glera grape.  In Russia it is called shampanskoye, which means champagne.  

The French primarily use Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  Traditionally, there is an initial fermentation, followed by a second, with a freezing process for removing the sediments.  You cannot find real champagne less than three years old, and the quality is carefully maintained.  The bottle of Dom Perignon I just purchased was dated 2003.  There are more than a hundred champagne houses.  The prestige champagnes are Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siecle, Moet and Chandon's Dom Perignon, Pol Roger's Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill and Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne.  There is pink champagne, influenced by the Pinot Noir grape.  From USA Today, Americans are getting into the spirit:

My initial experience with champagne was in college more than half a century ago when really cheap California sparkling wines could be called champagne.  They generally were sweet and easy drinking.  I recall  my freshman roomy and still good friend, Jim Seger, setting an imibibition record of 16 glasses at a party in San Jose.  We all woke up in Toyon Hall the following morning and thought we had died, as our Stanford campus was blanketed with several inches of snow.  Using wheelbarrows (how we found shovels and a wheelbarrow is a story for another time), we made snowmen in rooms of "friends."  I guess we did not lock our doors in those days.

As  a matter of fact, I still prefer California sparkling wines to the fermented smell or musky odor of the expensive French versions.  Interestingly enough, I invested in one of my friend's, Phil Bossert's, wine importation company some years ago where one product was a RED sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir.  It could not be called champagne because the processing occurred in Germany.  That is my ultimate:  a heavy bodied, Bourdeaux-type wine with bubbles.  Can you imagine the market for this elixir in China?  I await the day when I can watch my Hawaiian sunset over a flute of this bubbly, smoking a Churchill cigar that smells like pipe tobacco, sipping a cup of coffee that tastes like coffee.  None of this exists today.

I once thought more expensive sparkling wines had smaller bubbles.  Well, it turns out this is actually true!  Also, remember that story about being able to get drunker faster with champagne than wine?  Amazingly enough, this is also true.  Then, of course, that tale about the traditional champagne glass moulded from the left (close to her hear) breast of Marie Antoinette?  Also true.  However, while we did suck up this potion from these types of glasses (as in that San Jose misadventure) a half century ago, everyone now uses those long, tall, thin flutes.  I have a series of these Riedel glasses starting with the Year 2000 (right) to the present.

The alcohol content of most sparkling wines is in the range of 10-13% by volume.  14% and the bottle pays higher taxes in some locales.  The standard pour should be five ounces.  Conveniently, the medical profession says ten ounces per day of wine is ideal, which is the equivalent of two bottles of beer and two 1.5 ounce shots of scotch.  The world is not fair. This only applies to males.  For women, divide by two.  The why is too complicated to attempt here.

You can keep good champagne for a very long time.  A bottle of 1825 Perrier-Jouet (right) stored at 52 F was recently opened and tasted okay.  Two bottles are left.

Thus, everything you thought about champagnes might well have been wrong.  Now, do it right!

To prepare a bottle, don't place it in a freezer.  You are encouraged to chill it in salt saturated icy water to lower the temperature as much as possible.  Then, using a towel around the bottle, carefully (people have lost their eye), ease off that wire cage and foil (this is the tricky part because you need two hands), making sure that this lethal weapon is pointed in a safe direction, for this bullet can fly off at 50 miles per hour for 50 feet.  Grab the cork with one hand and turn the bottle (yes, turn the bottle, which is cold and slippery--so keep using the towel) with the other.  Have a glass handy to pour, just in case the bubbly was not cold enough.

There are two more techniques..  Go down to your cool cellar, grab a real saber, then swiftly chop off the top close to the cork.  In planning for his company, Phil Bossert and I were treated to this ceremony in Luxembourg at a foie gras restaurant which had its own goose farm.  I did wonder, though, about shards of glass.  However, this is a time tested method, and it is wiser not to have the champagne too cold, for you want to lose that initial surge to remove those pieces.  There is a less exciting way by using the back of a butcher knife.

Of course, there are numerous health benefits.  Your brain can better cope from a stroke, and there are hints that Alzlheimer's and Parkinson's patients can be helped.  I don't want to be a ninny on this, but my posting on diacetyl suggested that any white wine actually might induce Alzheimer's and dementia.  Maybe bubbles make that crucial difference.  More evidence from Reading University, where polyphenol antioxidants in champagne, as in red wine and chocolates, reduced the effects of free radicals.  Also, sparkling wine strengthens the walls of your blood vessels.  Plus:  lowers blood pressure and boosts your mood.

The best Sunday brunch is served at the W Hotel in Walker Hill, Seoul.  They feature Veuve Clicquot.
Drink all you want, for that is the only way you can feel like your bill is justified.  Sort of reminds me of flying First Class.  I carry an attitude that every drink I don't drink is money wasted.

My uncle Paul consumes half a bottle of champagne every day.  He is nearing 95.  Well, anyway, that bottle of Andre above is in his honor.  Usually, champagne is drunk on special occasions, such as my golden anniversary less than a week ago.  Ships are christened and racing car winners are so sprayed.  I think those victorious female golfers are spattered with club soda, but that one to the left at the recent U.S. Women's Open certainly looks like champagne.  Anyway, tomorrow, New Year's Eve, is the biggest night for champagne.  

TOMORROW:  my annual grand summary--The Shape of Things to Come by the Year 2020.

Tropical Cyclone Freda is now up to 120 MPH, and is projected to affect New Caledonia:

However, while Freda is expected to weaken, the eye will steamroll along the western coastline of the main island.

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