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“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

December 30th, 2009

The turkey is well and truly gone and the last of the wine bottles have been taken to the bottle bank. We are all just about ready to start the useless promises and resolutions for the New Year. Ink never refused paper, and my articles are surely proof of that. Just as we are about to capsize into the sea of good living, we realize that New Years Eve has to be endured. No more wine, no more food, no more ice – we have enough. Once more into the breach and all of that jazz. If Pinot Noir was the wine of choice for Turkey, then Champagne has to be the way to jump into the next decade. Tradition dictates and we follow. At least, we used to follow. That drink of kings and queens is on the decline. In recent years, the sales have plummeted to be replaced by Cava and Prosecco, their Spanish and Italian neighbours.
This is not entirely a fair comparison as the process involved can vary hugely. They tend to use the much cheaper Charmat method which uses stainless steel tanks for the secondary fermentation. Champagne is a sparkling wine that can only come from the region of Champagne in northern France. Nothing else can legally call itself Champagne, although you will see bending of this rule in such ‘delights’ as Californian Champagne.

This decline has a lot to do with the Champenoise people themselves. I have continually searched for well priced champagne and have met with many small family vineyards on my travels to France but could not find the price / quality ratio. I won’t give up, but to be honest, there isn’t really a market for it, so I won’t rush in. They won’t loosen the pricing – the fact that the duty is double in Ireland for sparkling wine does not help the situation. In their defence they use the “method traditonalle” to make the bubbles. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée a minimum of one and a half years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared – you really pay top dollar for these wines. In general though, most champagnes are of the blended variety – different years in the same wine. The grapes used are also a blend – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The real labour in the production is the remuage – the manipulation ( often manual ) of each bottle, in order that the lees ( deposit of residual yeast ) settle in the neck of the bottle. This is later frozen and taken out and the bottles resealed. The famous monk Dom Perignon is credited with accidentally inventing champagne many vintages ago, and his famous explanation of “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars” is often quoted. It’s a good story and true in many regards and he was revolutionary in the advancement of techniques, especially in bottles and corks. Necessity was indeed the mother of invention because without the tougher bottles and new corking, the bottles kept exploding. Just don’t mention Christopher Merret, the English scientist and physician who documented the process a few years earlier. Of course there was no blogging or twitter back then, so how was Dom to know.

Champagne was for many years the tipple of choice for the rich and famous. I suppose it still is in some circles. Being neither rich nor famous, it does not feature heavily in mine. That could be due to the fact me and the bubbles don’t get on. I can drink one glass, but after that the bubbles make there way up to the sensible and sensitive part of my brain. I start to babble, even more than normal and suddenly start to care what people are saying. Very unlike me. Basically, I can’t handle the stuff. It puts me on my ear. I would have been useless in the roaring twenties when it was the only tipple with which to wet your whistle. Some people who it did agree with and who left us some wonderful quotes include :

“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger)

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
(F. Scott Fitzgerald)

And last but by no means least, is one that might be perceived as a little dated, but the bubbles are making me do it. “One holds a bottle of red wine by the neck, a woman by the waist, and a bottle of Champagne by the derriere.” (Mark Twain)

So, as 2010 approaches I do hope you make realistic resolutions. If I could suggest but one – for that detox period in January. Drink less wine to be sure, but drink better wine.

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”.

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