Champagne

When you buy champagne or anything in the sparkling realm, people tend to ask “what are you celebrating?” Over the last month I’ve had something to tell them, but now it’s going to be back to the usual response of “nothing”. Sometimes this is met with quizzical looks, which I find amusing. Just as I think it’s perfectly OK to eat non-breakfast food at breakfast time, or do grocery shopping at midnight, I’m not the sort of person who only has sparkly drinks on special occasions. Champagne is actually my primary drink of choice, and, if I could afford it, it would always be my first choice.

I guess I don’t believe in saving things for special. The everyday is special. You could be dead tomorrow. This is probably why I have never been successful at cultivating a wine collection. I usually just drink any wine I’m given as a gift, rather than store it. I’m also not the sort of person who brings out the “good plates” or “good glasses” for dinner guests. I often wear “fancy” dresses as everyday wear rather than letting them sit in the cupboard for a special occasion.

Beyond the association with celebrations, I wonder what is the appeal of champagne? I have been fascinated by the sparkly drink since I was young enough to see my parents drinking shampoo-pagne at Christmas. 

I suppose one appeal of champagne is that it’s synonymous with wealth and the good life. Patsy and Eddie always had a fridge full of Bolly, which seems like a splendid idea. My friends and I covet the days when we can have our own fridges full of bubbly and call each other toff names like tiggy-wiggy and popsy-blossom (as an aside, is that what Jamie Oliver and his wife were thinking when naming their children?).

Alex James, bassist of Blur, fine cheese maker and honorary astrophysicist famously claimed to have spent a million pounds on champagne and cocaine.  In his book, Bit of a Blur, he taught me that one should eat a carrot between bottles of champagne since it is quite acidic and makes your breath smell bad. Roger that, Alex. Speaking of expensive champagne, in November last year there was an auction at Christie’s for 6 bottles of century old Moet. Ouch. At least the money was going to charity.

There must be something beyond the cost that makes champagne appealing. For example, cava, which is made in Spain uses theMéthode Champignoise (the Champagne Method) but is often less than a quarter of the price of champagne.  The process of making cava involves two fermentations, one in a big vat and then the second in the bottle which is turned, in 3 movements, twice a day, by hand and care is taken to ensure the sediment stays in the neck. Then, when it’s ready, the upper portion is frozen to allow the sediment to freeze into ice and it’s extracted. Then the wine is bottled and corked. Same method as champagne, same grapes, same extraction process. What does this tell us then? That we are massive suckers for good marketing and the mystique of Francophilia. Similarly, wine buffs rave about reds from Bordeauxbecause that’s what people have heard of. Yet, back in the 19thcentury when the phylloxera epidemic devastated much ofFrance’s vineyards and most winemakers skipped over thePyrenees to Rioja. Spain is the new Bordeaux.  

Beyond the associations of bubbles = fun, and expensive=good, I think part of the appeal for me is that the science of champagne is interesting. Since last year was the international year of chemistry, the American Chemical Society posted this video around NYE to explain the science of champagne.

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