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Friday, March 1, 2013

Champagne “Just Because"

Recently, I realized that I just don’t drink enough Champagne.  In fact, here in the US, most people don’t drink enough Champagne.

How do I know this?

Well, our culture has emphasized that Champagne is for special occasions only, like New Year’s Eve, weddings, etc.

Yes, Champagne is ideal for celebrations.  But why not drink Champagne “just because?”  I know good Champagne is often expensive and people seem to be quite name- conscious when it comes to Champagne houses, and I know that such expenses and Champagne names are generally associated with special days.

Roederer’s Cristal was the Champagne of choice to celebrate my graduation from law school.  Moet & Chandon Imperial was the Champagne at my sister’s wedding.  Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label has been present for anniversaries, bachelorette parties, etc.  Bollinger has graced the Thanksgiving table.  Duval-LeRoy and Nicolas Feuillate have appeared at parties before.  Laurent-Perrier and Mumm have graced the table at a pre-Christmas celebratory dinners.  Dom Perignon was Kevin Zraly’s choice to mark the end of last winter’s Windows on the World wine school (and the image of him in a tuxedo taking a sip from the bottle of Dom still remains in my mind).

More recently, Champagne has been a part of my wine adventures.  New Year’s Eve started with Beau Joie Rose, followed by my very first experience with the (amazingly delicious) Taittinger Comtes de Champagne.

Those are, more or less, some of the more recognizable names in Champagne.

When we depend on those names, we either run the risk of landing in the “mass produced” trap where we rely on things we know so well (consistency is guaranteed, terroir expression is lost), or we go for something absolutely exquisite but based on the name, we overpay.
So why not change it up?  I’m not talking about Prosecco, Cava, Sekt, and Cremant - while those can be fantastic, I’m actually still talking about Champagne.  I mean small producers and names we hear a lot less often.  At these smaller Champagne houses (including grower Champagnes, where the Champagne house owns the vineyards, grows their own grapes, and produces the wines), the focus is on terroir and expression of the vintage and the location on the Champagne region.  The grapes are not sourced from all around Champagne; rather, they’re usually from the vineyards owned by the Champagne house centered around one village.  While quality is not always the same from vintage to vintage and some may regard this as lack of consistency, it’s actually what we want to see - honesty and expressiveness in the wines.

And oftentimes, the effort to hunt down some different and lesser known Champagnes is rewarded with an interesting wine at a lower price.

For Valentine’s Day, I picked the Vilmart & Cie 2007 Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru.  It was fantastic.  If you haven’t tried Champagne from Vilmart, I urge you to find it and try it.  And at just under $100, it’s great quality and it’s vintage Champagne.  How can you beat that?

I seem to be craving bubbles lately.  It’s what made me realize I haven’t been drinking nearly enough Champagne.  So not long ago, I picked a Philipponnat Brut Royale Reserve - on a weeknight, for no particular reason - “just because.”  Philipponnat is one of my favorites - it’s a somewhat bold Champagne with lovely texture and toasted notes with a lot of presence.  Haven’t heard of it?  Find it and try it, “just because” - it’s under $50!

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