Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April
Food and Beverage
BY SARAH J.F. BRALEY
All About Champagne
Serving bubbly with style is more than a matter of knowing
how to pop the cork
Whether you believe the next thousand years begin in 2000 or
2001, there's no time like the present to start planning millennium
parties. Of course, the beverage of choice for this momentous
occasion or another celebratory event is champagne.
Legend has it that this form of wine was first bottled by Dom
Pérignon, a Benedictine monk who was the cellar master at the
Hautvillers Abbey in the Champagne region of France from 1668 to
1715. Supposedly, the first time he tasted the drink he had
accidentally created, he said something like, "Come quickly! I'm
drinking stars!" In fact, sparkling wines were being fermented long
before Dom Pérignon came along. What the good friar can be
congratulated for are his blending skills, with which he created
the taste standard for champagne.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
True champagnes are those imported from the Champagne region, where
more than 900 million bottles of the bubbly currently are
fermenting in the miles of caves beneath the gorgeous countryside.
To create the wine, three types of grapes are used: chardonnay (a
white grape) and pinot noir and pinot meunier (both red-skinned, or
so-called black grapes); they each go through a preliminary
fermentation alone before being blended to make champagne. After a
great grape year, only fruit from that season is used, creating a
vintage bottling. Generally, however, wines from several years are
blended to produce excellent, non-vintage champagnes.
Once the wines have been blended, a mixture of yeast, wine and
sugar is added for the second fermentation, which produces the
carbon dioxide, or bubbles. The bottles are stored upside down and
are turned daily to induce the sediment to settle at the top of the
bottle. A process called dégorgement ejects the sediment,
and a second dosage of wine and sugar is added. The finished wine
comes in three types for discerning tongues, depending on the
amount of sugar added during the last step. The more common
champagnes are "brut" (very dry), "sec" (dry) and "demi-sec"
(semi-dry, slightly sweet).
Varieties made outside of the Champagne region are called
sparkling wines or are said to be made by the méthode
champenoise. This does not mean, however, that they are
RAISE A GLASS
On hearing the words "champagne glass," most people think of the
wide, shallow-bowled coupes that were thrown in fireplaces after a
toast in old movies. According to legend, the coupe was modeled
after Marie Antoinette's breast, perhaps from a plaster cast of the
real thing. Origins aside, avoid using these glasses. They allow
the fizz and the aroma to escape in a heartbeat, spoiling the
The ideal champagne glass is the flute, a narrow, tall glass
that lets you watch the bubbles float gracefully up the sides
before reaching your lips. The long stems also allow you to keep
your fingers away from the wine (so they won't warm it up), which
is hard to do when holding a coupe.
Some of the big names in elegant glass manufacturing are Riedel,
Spiegelau, Baccarat and Luigi Bormioli, offering incredibly
delicate, elegant and expensive flutes as well as beautiful, more
reasonable versions. Whatever your selection, be sure the glasses
are clear: Their purpose is to show off the wine.
THE SOMMELIER RECOMMENTS...
You'll never go wrong serving a champagne from one of these
cellars: Mo't & Chandon, Mumm, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jou't,
Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger. On the less expensive side (perhaps
for large groups), Joshua Wesson, sommelier and president of Best
Cellars wine retailers, recommends Hacienda Brut non-vintage (NV)
from Sonoma, Calif., and Australia's Seaview Brut 1996, both about
$10 a bottle. For larger budgets (or smaller groups), he suggests
Laurent-Perrier Brut NV and Pol Roger Brut NV in the $20 to $25
range. When money is no object (perhaps the CEO and his colleagues
have pushed the stock to an all-time high), break out the Krug
Grand Cuv}e Brut or the Salon Le Mesnil 1990, at about $110 a
bottle. Serve them cold.
Sending the cork into the air to open a bottle is festive, but
you lose a lot of wine that way. Instead, carefully remove the cage
and put a towel over the cork. Holding the towel tightly with one
hand, use the other to very gently turn the cork until it eases
from the bottle with barely a sound. Fill glasses to within an inch
of the top. Unlike still wines, champagne doesn't need space in the
glass to release the bouquet the bubbles accomplish that.
Here's to an effervescent event!
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