CHAM­PAGNE ALL YEAR!

Re­solved: to in­dulge more of­ten in sparkling lux­ury.

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - By Dave McIn­tyre The Washington Post

avint­ner re­cently asked me to name my fa­vorite wine. It’s a com­mon ques­tion, since I write about wine, and I usu­ally de­mur with some bro­mide about choos­ing a fa­vorite child, or I go for a laugh with “What­ever you’re pour­ing!” But this time, over­come by an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic hon­esty, I con­fided that if I had to choose one type of wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would be cham­pagne.

My host seemed sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed, and not only be­cause he was of­fer­ing me his (quite nice) viog­nier. Cham­pagne to him was too friv­o­lous a wine to choose as a one-and-only tip­ple.

But I agree with the econ­o­mist John May­nard Keynes, who ut­tered on his deathbed, “I should have drunk more cham­pagne.”

I think I say that ev­ery year when I sam­ple cham­pagnes for this hol­i­day col­umn. I al­ways make a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to drink more of them, but that goes by the way­side al­most as fast as the one about ex­er­cise and weight con­trol.

Why do we limit cham­pagne to the hol­i­days and spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as wed­dings and base­ball pen­nants? One rea­son is im­age. Cham­pagne pro­duc­ers have for decades, if not longer, mar­keted their wine as a lux­ury prod­uct, an ex­trav­a­gance that runs counter to a cursed Pu­ri­tan work ethic. And it’s priced like a lux­ury ob­ject. Even the least ex­pen­sive cham­pagnes, such as the very fine Charles de Cazanove Brut, cost about $30 a bot­tle. That’s not an ev­ery­day drink.

There are other sparkling wines, of course. Span­ish cava, Ital­ian prosecco, cre­mants from other re­gions of France, sekt from Ger­many and Aus­tria and de­light­fully fizzy chenin blanc from South Africa can turn any or­di­nary day into a spe­cial oc­ca­sion for a frac­tion of the price of cham­pagne. U.S. sparkling wines from Vir­ginia, New York, New Mex­ico and, of course, Cal­i­for­nia can be im­pres­sively deep, com­plex and sat­is­fy­ing.

But they are not cham­pagne. Cham­pagne is more than a method: the tech­nique of cre­at­ing bub­bles through a sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion in the bot­tle rather than through car­bon­a­tion in a tank. It is a wine ex­pres­sive of its ori­gin in a par­tic­u­lar re­gion of France. That re­gion’s cool, of­ten trou­ble­some cli­mate and its chalky soils are re­flected in ev­ery bot­tle. Like the world’s finest wines, it is a prod­uct as much of place as of grapes. It can­not be made any­where else.

To il­lus­trate that point for friends, I re­cently opened a Pierre Pail­lard Brut Rose non-vin­tage cham­pagne and a Schrams­berg 2007 Brut Rose from Cal­i­for­nia. They were iden­ti­cal in ap­pear­ance, a bright salmon color with fine beads of bub­bles. Both were de­li­cious.

But the Pail­lard, which re­tails for $53, showed an earthy min­er­al­ity and laser fo­cus un­der its steely red-fruit fla­vors, while the Schrams­berg ($40) was ex­pan­sive and fruity, softer and more mouth-fill­ing.

The Schrams­berg tasted of Cal­i­for­nia, its warmth and sun­shine.

The Pail­lard was in­vig­o­rat­ing. Each sip of the Schrams­berg made me smile; each taste of the Pail­lard left me ea­ger for a bite to eat or an­other sip.

Was one bet­ter than the other? Not nec­es­sar­ily. But cham­pagne lovers crave and are will­ing to pay for that dis­tinc­tive en­ergy and state­ment of ori­gin that says, “This is cham­pagne.”

This hol­i­day sea­son, whether you cel­e­brate with cham­pagne or bubbly from else­where, I hope you will join me in a res­o­lu­tion to keep the cel­e­bra­tion go­ing into the New Year.

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