by John Babos
My first encounter with champagne was one in which I will never forget. My college friend Leroy was getting married and I, along with 400 other college buds were crammed into the basement of the Krovanian Morovian Reform Church of Cravanian Ohio. The best man, who really wasn’t, raised his flowered Styrofoam cup and presented a champagne toast. After a hardy gulp, I could honestly say that I knew the meaning of the word swill. It was the most gosh awful stuff I had ever tasted. As I looked for a way to dispose of my champagne while running to a rest room, I noticed Leroy’s father in the in the adjacent back room mixing ginger ale into gallon jugs of wine…a.k.a. the wedding champagne. I honestly believed that was how champagne was created, and what a disappointment to realize how my hero then, James Bond, could even drink the stuff. (James Bond orders a Dom Perignon in the movie “Goldfinger.”) It was unfortunate, but that episode at Leroy’s wedding so discouraged me away from champagne that it would be years before I realized what I had missed. Every wedding thereafter, I made up some excuse about a rare champagne allergy and skipped the traditional toast. Instead, I spent my time indulging on vintage, 2 month old Iron City Beer.
Through a quirk of events many years later, Crystal and I happened upon a restaurant that was only serving champagne on that day. It was presenting an opportunity for people to become acquainted with champagne. Even though I didn’t see Leroy or his father in the premises, I must admit I wanted out of there and quickly. However, Crystal convinced me to stay. After the champagne was poured, with the ritual of the ice bucket and such, I gazed at the sparkling effervescences and golden color, I sensed an aroma of roasted nuts and dried fruit. Slowly raising the flute to my lips I experienced an epiphany. It was without a doubt one of the most glorious experiences that ever stimulated my palates. I had no idea that champagne could be so wonderful. I began investigating and sampling every champagne possible. In a way, it was kind of nice going into wine stores, and instead of being overwhelmed by thousands of bottles of wine, finding a selection of a just a few great champagnes and sparkling wines. Within just a few months, when we were out to dinner, the only drink Crystal and I ordered was champagne.
Through the years and a little research Crystal and I learned of the méthod champenois. We also learned about the three grapes used in the blending of champagnes:
Chardonnay – a very popular white grape
Pinot Noir – a black grape that adds a slight berry taste
Pinot Meunier – a black grape that adds a hint of spice
In addition, the understanding of the sweetness categories of champagne such as:
Brut Nature - 0 -3 grams of sugar/liter added (really dry, like sucking on a
lemon, not my favorite)
Extra Brut – 0-6 grams of sugar/liter (pretty dry)
Brut – 0 -15 grams/liter of sugar added (dry but never austere, as in Fred)
Extra Dry – 12- 2- grams/liter of sugar (medium dry)
Sec – 17-35 grams/liter of sugar (medium sweet)
Demi-Sec – 35 -50 grams/liter (pretty sweet)
Then of course we learned to decrypt the rest of the ever confusing label:
Blanc de blancs – Made from only Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de noir – Champagne made from only dark skin grapes. (Gotta love the French…calling a champagne white of black).
Cuvée – A blend; in fact all champagnes are blends and this word on a label is, in my opinion worthless. However, it does sound classy.
Vintage – wine/champagne containing wines harvested within one year.
Non-vintage – wine/champagne containing wines from more than one year.
Champagne, the ritual of its serving and the splendid taste with almost every meal made this our favorite dinner drink. Many champagnes or sparkling wines (those created outside of the champagne region of France) are very reasonably priced. If you’ve never tried a real champagne or sparkling wine, please consider joining us for a champagne tasting with members of our Ferrari club. If you have ever had a not-so-good champagne experience, consider this a chance to set things right. Last year’s event opened many eyes as well as palates to the wonders of champagnes and sparkling wines. Please contact me or Crystal if you have any questions regarding the upcoming champagne tasting in October. Hope to see you there.