I love the fact that Champagne is a story of opposites: It is complicated to make, yet the general production process is easy to explain. Developing a unique “blend” can be difficult, but the grapes are pretty cut and dry. It’s both traditional and modern (think Jay-Z’s rap songs about free-flowing Cristal).
All that, of course, is way too boring (and has been discussed from previous posts, here and here), so let me skip to the best bits (and avoid a potential crucifixion from people reading this article): stories.
Last year, Chad, our niece N, and I were in Reims for a Champagne tour. Chad (who has always been in a De La Salle school) was interested in making a mini-pilgrimage to our school’s founder (St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle was born in Reims, and his mother is a member of the Moët family).
I (with my predictably one-track mind) was interested in wine.
Our first stop was Pommery. Pommery’s façade was a conundrum… We couldn’t quite figure out what it was until the guide told us, “The architecture of the house is a tribute to the British,” because the Brits were one of the biggest fans (and therefore consumers) of Pommery’s bubbly.
The founder, Madame Louise Pommery (yet another Champagne widow), was also a lover of the arts. Her passion for art started a tradition of having exhibits in and around Pommery’s grounds.
Pommery cellars are also legendary for the stairs (all 116 steps), which descends to the humid cellars housing over 20 million bottles. The house, as a tradition, would name a “hall” in the cellars after a new city they would launch their wines in (I tried and failed to find Manila).
The cellar had (and still has) “dummy” partitions that housed some bottles during the war. In fact, some of the plans have been lost and to this day, they still discover bottles hidden behind walls. One treasure they discovered was a bottle dating back to the 1800s. Their cellar master had a sip of the champagne and said that it tasted like candy apples. Needless to say, it kept well.
We were welcomed back aboveground by a welcome sight: a few Champagne flutes. One was filled with their signature distinctively blue labeled Brut Royal. Crisp, refreshing, elegant, and incredibly citrusy, it was something perfect for a romantic afternoon date on the beach.
I, however, fell HARD for the Brut Silver. In Manila, we have a relatively limited selection of champagnes, most of which would require you to pay through the nose. I rarely get to try champagne that’s meant to be paired with proper food (and not just for hors-d’oeuvres). Brut Silver was exquisitely creamy, complimented by some notes of grapefruit, apricot, and nuts. I can imagine pairing it with something as heavy as truffle pasta. Or, throw out traditional wine pairing rules and just have glasses and glasses of it over an entire multiple-course dinner… It can hold its own.
What I love about Champagne, however, is that it’s not all about history and tradition… They have gradually moved to the 21st century by recognising their place in parties. Pommery is no different, having introduced their colourful POP line. These tiny bottles are consumed by the younger set (of legal drinking age, I hope) in clubs. They can even provide straws so as not to ruin lipsticks.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, Chad is a Lasallian (who, incidentally, married one too… Animo!). Our trip would not have been complete without a trip to Moët and Chandon. Moët is a staple in fashion shows and many glamorous events, but what we sometimes fail to remember that it is the non-vintage version of the prestigious, save-it-for-a-really special occasion, Dom Perignon.
Bottles of Dom have been paid homage to by many rap artists because of its aspirational characteristics (and price tag). Wine geeks like myself love the history behind the brand… Dom Pérignon was a Franciscan monk who introduced the use of the three grapes I’ve previously mentioned in the making of Champagne.
Some misconceptions about him included the myth that he exclaimed, “I am drinking stars!” when he tried Champagne’s sparklers. This gave birth to another myth that he was the one who invented secondary fermentation.
Au contraire. He actually worked to keep the wines still (not-sparkling) because the bottles at the time could not stand the pressure (secondary fermentation, which is a necessary process to add bubbles to the wine, was an accidental phenomenon, brought about by yeast “sleeping” in the winter and “waking up” during spring). It caused accidents with the workers, and a significantly diminished production.
Presently, Dom is associated with prestige… All bottles are vintage* champagnes. This means that they would only make bottles from grapes harvested in phenomenal years (non-vintage champagnes would be blended from different years to keep consistency).
And speaking of prestige, Möet is part owned by Louis Vuitton. 😉
What’s your favourite champagne brand? Cheers!
*Helpful hint: if you see a year on the bottle of champagne, it’s a vintage year, and would be a wee bit pricier than a non-vintage version