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What's Open Owen? - March '21 Edition

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Ah, March we meet again. It is finally a time to celebrate, a time to reflect, and a time for me to take a personal inventory of my cellar (aka spring cleaning). I have decided to write about Champagne this month because I believe that any occasion is the right occasion to saber a bottle of bubbles. With warmer weather around the corner, and the food world opening back up after a long and cold winter, it feels appropriate to pop a few bottles.


There is a reason that Champagne has been called the beverage of kings. A personal favorite of King Louis XIV and Napoleon, Champagne has been the hallmark of fine French wine. So, what makes it so special, and why can't I get enough?


A refreshing sparkling wine can accomplish more than cleansing your palate. Champagne is a natural aphrodisiac, and paired with the right food, it can elevate a dish to the stratosphere. The real identifying factor in champagne, no surprise here, is the effervescence (bubbles). These bubbles are captured naturally during production, as yeast turns sugars into alcohol, heat, and CO2. By capturing this CO2, you are left with fine bubbles that are unique to this traditional style of producing sparkling wine.


Interestingly enough, most champagne is designated as as "Non-Vintage"(NV) on the bottle. This is because the wine is blended from year to year to maintain a certain level of consistency. When a year appears on a bottle, it is because that one vintage was especially great, and 100% of that wine is made from grapes from that year. This is more rare but means you will be opening a particularly special bottle.


Here's What's Currently Open:


2009 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne


When I got engaged to my fiancée, this is what we opened. Dom Pérignon's name is synonymous with the region of Champagne. The rumor is that the monk, Dom Pérignon, accidentally discovered the method of producing this sparkling beverage, rightfully now called the "methode champenoise." This is highly debated, but the story has captured the imagination of wine connoisseurs for generations and has placed the brand at the top of the Champagne charts.


This particular Cuvée (varietal blend) is a mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. With notes of brioche, honeysuckle, and high acid citrus, the 2009 vintage was absolutely exceptional. Light and crisp with fine bubbles, it pairs perfectly with finer foods such as oysters and caviar. I also happen to like Champagnes like this with some Cape Cod Potato chips (seriously, try it!).


2006 Veuve Clicquot "La Grand Dame" Brut Champagne


Veuve Clicquot was the first champagne house to have declared a vintage and has been involved with the French nobility for centuries. This is similarly a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.


This wine has notes of grapefruit, stone fruits (peaches and apricots), gingerbread, and hazelnuts. Bright with a solid structure, I would pair this wine with anything salty or cooked in butter. One of my favorite pairings is champagne with seafood in a lemon butter sauce. Most recently, we've been searing scallops in our cast iron skillet. For vintage Champagnes like this, one could potentially cellar the bottle for another ~5ish years, but I think 15 years is a good timeline for opening vintage Champagne.


Does Champagne HAVE to be from the Champagne region of France?


Yes!! It seems pretentious at first, but with a little historical context, it makes more sense. Champagne marketed its wine exceptionally well, and now the name is synonymous with luxury and elegance. This fetches a pretty price, and the French are highly protective of the quality of their product. If, for example, a wine made in the United States was called "Champagne" and was not a quality one, the name of Champagne and the price would decrease in French markets.


There is also the matter that Champagne is actually a place. You can buy a ticket and go to the region of Champagne, so for another wine to name itself after a place it is not from seems wrong. The French cannot regulate the product grown in another country and would hate for others to make money off of its prized name. There are now laws in place that protect the name, much like a trademark, so that Champagne keeps its place in the world as the finest of sparkling beverages.


Other, high quality sparkling beverages in the world exist and some are even made using the exact same process as Champagne, such as Cava from Spain, as well as some other sparkling white wines of the United states. Prosecco is another popular sparkling beverage from Italy, but it is made using a completely different process. We will address this in a separate post.


Have any questions or comments? Don't be afraid to reach out and let me know what you have open this month.


Cheers,

Owen

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