Packaging of champagne and wine in glass bottles
The degrees of gracious living are debatable.
One may argue that the Cadillac is a finer motorcar than the Rolls-Royce, that mink is mote distinguished than sables, or diamonds smarter than emeralds, or pate de foie gras mote elegant than caviar. But no one argues much about Champagne. No one will seriously contend that it has peers among wines. French wines are the greatest of all wines, and Champagne is the greatest of the greatest...
Its symbolism is a curious mixture of ritual and romance. It is the ceremonial drink at coronations and state banquets, the traditional beverage at betrothals, weddings, christenings and anniversaries. It launches ships. It is stylish at boo voyage parties. Its connotations are luxury, high living, love, happiness, gaiety, good luck. It is expensive. Among wines and spirits, only those that appeal mainly to connoisseurs arc costlier, such as fine old Cognac, a few scarce Scotches and whiskies, and the last remaining bottles of very great vintages of still wines.
Despite its price and status, Champagne is democratic. Over two million bottles of it now come into this country annually, and not all of these could possibly be drunk just in privileged homes or better restaurants. At least a trickle of Champagne finds its way into commonplace restaurants and homes in ordinary America. On occasion I have searched the menus in Midwestern steak houses for an everyday bottle of Bordeaux in vain and then have been mildly startled to note Pol Roger or Mumm’s listed under Sf Mkt mg Winter Imf Of ltd.
It goes with practically everything from appetizers through dessert, enhancing dishes that are as unlike as Nova Scotia salmon, rare filet mignon and baked Alaska. It knows no seasons, being as delicious on snowy Christinas in New England as on a humid Fourth of July in Alabama. It ignores the time of day. Unlike the French, few Americans crave still white wine for breakfast, but who among us turns down Champagne for brunch ?
Like many good things, Champagne is a product of adversity. The district from which it comes lies a hundred or so miles east of Parb and includes the valley of the Rivet Mame, a broad plain from which an unimposing plateau arises. The soil is pitifully thin, and under it b a massive deposit of chalk, the same chalk that appears across the Channel in the cliffs of Dover.
It is not a notably sunny region, and the win ten are sometimes cold. If one were starting afresh to plant a vineyard, the chalky plateau of Cham¬pagne might seem to have little promise. Yet thb thin soil, the chalk, the way the sun falls on the slopes and the vines combine-aided by cen¬turies of experience—to produce a unique wine. The only real Champagne comes from here, for oo where else in the world are weather, soil and nun's effort combined in the same formula.
Grapes grew on the plateau, and wine was pressed from the grapes, when Roman legions first marched across Gaul. In the city of Rheims, in the heart of the area, the Frankish Emperor Clovb was converted and baptized by Saint Rfimy, and then for 1)00 unbroken years French kings were crowned in this holy city and the wine of the ceremony was the wine of Champegne.
Indeed, the French royal family managed to acquire control of soepe of (he finest vineyards those mu the town of Ayand French kings proudly added Snt ef Ay to their long list of distmguidted tides.
The Champagne of those days was darker than it is today, and ordinarily it Udted bubbles. But in tome years bottles stored in the care* would explode, and frothy wine would spill out.
Someaaid the wine »u bedeviled; others said it >'u brought about by misbehavior of the sUrs or moon; others, coming closer to scientific fact, said the coming of spring caused the wine to "work" a second time. All conceded that the results were rather special.
Noe until around 1670 was a way discovered to imprison those tantalizing bubbles in every bottle, and to keep the bottle from exploding. Credit for inventing sparkling Champagne is attributed, inaccurately perhaps but by common consent, to a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon, cellarer of the Hautvilliers monastery.
Legends about the good Dom are numerous. It is said that as an old, blind man, Dom Perignon could sniff a glass of Champagne, sip it, swish ‘ it about in his mouth, and then unfailingly say from what hillside the grapes had come, from (whose property, and what sort of weather had occurred during their growth.
The French court during the height of its 1 splendor at Versailles popularized Champagne among the European nobility.
In an endorsement that became a social mandate, Louis X V s mistress and hostess, Msdamc de Pompsdour, declared: "Champagne is the sole drink a woman who is careful of her beauty can drink. It makes you glow with no ugly flush. You can drink it all evening and still be beautiful when you awake the next morning."
In the United States a new class of prosperous industrialists and merchants became the fascinated observers and patrons of Champagne salesmen wbo came here from France with immense expense accounts and extravagant gestures. One dandified salesman established himself in a great house on Fifth Avenue and drove a magnificent carriage with liveried footmen. His advertising technique was to buy Champagne for everyone preseat whenever be entered Sherry's,
It was the bon vivant, Edward VII of England, who promoted Champagne's affinity with all foods by introducing the now generally accepted custom of serving it as an aperitif and then throughout the meal. During his flamboyant era, still more peopk could afford Champagne, and some could afiord unbelievable amounts of it.
In 1906, midpoint of Edwardian grandeur, the wealthy Guitar Ktupp held • pit party to Lon* don't Savoy Hoed, during whkh the Majolica fountain in the courtyard gushed Champagne. In that tame year, the Champagne magnate, George Kessler, arranged to hare the tame Savoy courtyard flooded to he could serve hit guests in a gondola. He served, of course. Champagne. MOOUN APTUdATiON of Champagne b more direct and practical. "Come to a Champagne Party" is an arretatcable inviutioo, and such a party it a most charming way to entertain simply but elegantly. An ample supply of the ddicatc wine (Brut, of course, the dryett of dry) and bowls of caviar with chopped onion, chopped egg, sour cream and toast—this is all that is oeeded. Or perhaps, in place of the caviar, an outttandmg French paid, or a foie gras au nature!.
There arc some excellent Champagnes avail* able in this country. The wines of the 1947 vin¬tage are remarkable for their velvety smoothness and their flowery delicacy—qualities which they share with great Champagnes of the past. Some 1949s arc on the market, too, and though totally different they have their own special charm and elegance.
Being a blend of the wines of various years, the non- vintage is a true test of the producer's art, and a floe Champagne Arm will often create ooc that is amaaingly good.
With hide, the traveler abroad can stall find some of the magnificent old vintage Champagnes in France, for though it should be drunk rather young, gentle care will sometimes preserve the wine for years longer. On a recent vbit to Pub I thoroughly enjoyed tasting some of the fablous Champagne of 1911, some of the famous 1928 vintage, and several of the great 1934s. They still were outstanding.
Probably Champagne will always be costlier than other wines, but not because of scarcity. It is true that only a limited amount can be produced, since only a limited amount of grapes can grow m this especially blessed region. You pay, in fine Champagne, for endless personalized at¬tention. Each bottle b handled hundreds of times twisted, turned, constantly inspected. As Andit Simon said: "Champagne has always been, still is, and will ever be an extravagant wine, the most charming and fascinating wine.