Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Introduction to Champagne

One of my favorite champagne's is from J Vineyards in the Russian River, California. My dad would always buy cases of this for "entertaining", although I drank 90% of it and the only people they regularly entertain are my Mormon step-brother and his wife (you see what I'm saying?). You can't find J everywhere; it's easier on the West Coast, as I've had some difficulty getting it here in New York, but thank Dionysus you can order it online at The Cuvee 20 Brut is reasonably priced at $28.00 and my personal favorite.
It also makes GREAT MIMOSAS. Hint: use a splash of mango juice or a splash of peach juice instead of OJ for an exciting experience.
Enjoying said mimosa in Riverside Park. Turns out tupperware makes 
a great alternative to cups. Scarf: Alexander McQueen

I find it fitting that champagne, the most iconic of beverages, symbolic of wealth and luxury, (I'm not including hangover-in-a-bottle's like André or Korbel in that statement) would start to come into fashion at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV. When the young king entered his majority in 1654 (thirteen years and a day), he was crowned at the cathedral at Reims, as was tradition. The present nobles of Reims, capital of the Champagne region, said to their new king “Sire, we offer you our wines, our pears, our gingerbreads, our biscuits and our hearts.”  Louis responded coolly, “that, gentlemen, is the kind of speech I like.”
However, Louis did not like his wines to bubble[1], as it was generally held to be a flaw in the fermenting process until Dom Pierre Perignon, a blind Benedictine monk, managed to regulate the effervescence when it proved impossible to remove-thanks dude! Wine bubbles naturally when the grapes are first pressed, but in colder climates, such as that of Champagne, the yeasts which cause the fizzing hibernate during the winter and wake back up in the spring. Champagne’s wines returned to life in March and were bubbling like mad come summer.
Although it gained in popularity amongst the nobility during the King’s reign, the rarity and expense made it a subject of censure among the lower classes. Doctors (who back then were about as effective as an ax murderer) and priests were often unanimous in expounding the dangers of drinking champagne, while verses were penned to its detriment, such as the following by professor Bengine Grenan:

             Lift to the skies thy foaming wine,
             That cheers the heart, that charms the eye,
            Exalt its fragrance, gift divine,
Champagne, from thee the wise must fly!
A poison lurks those charms below,
An asp beneath the flowers is hid.

The following century gave champagne a wider audience, as it gained in popularity following further advancements in the fermenting process. The Regent, Philippe d’Orleans, nephew of Louis XIV, enjoyed the sparkling wine and featured it at his nightly petits soupers at the Palais-Royal. D'Orleans was especially known for these late night private affairs, which history has led us to believe often degenerated into fullblown orgies; indeed, the French Regency period is regarded as one of the most licentious and gleefully perverse in history. If you think the 1% nowadays is philandering and wasteful, you don't know squat. This was an era when men would sleep together not because of sexual preference, but because bad behavior was in fashion and what could be more dastardly than buggering your friend just for the hell of it? 
Throughout the 18th century champagne houses opened up, creating a new business dynamic. Rather than single estate growers or monasteries producing the majority of wine, private houses or merchants who bought grapes from vineyard owners to make champagne came to dominate. The houses of Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger are some of the major houses that were founded during this period. Besides the Regent, champagne gained other prolific supporters such as Madame du Pompadour and Voltaire; the latter immortalized the growing trend as well as its French origins in poetry: This wine where sparkling bubbles dance/Reflects the brilliant soul of France.

So now you'll be able to brag about your classy alcohol knowledge next time you're poppin' bottles up in da club.
And if you haven't seen the best advertisement ever for Moet & Chandon you need to get on that, and don't forget about SNL's attempts to shill Hermes Handbags. Priceless.


[1] Prior to Perignon’s influence, the bubbles in sparkling wines were irregular and hardly resembled what we would today classify as Champagne.

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