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New Year's Eve is all about giving the ol' razzle dazzle: Sparkling garb, sparkling balls dropping, sparkling wine.
For the latter, many opt to toast to the New Year - and the subjective lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne" - with capital-C Champagne.
Daniel Lobsenz, the sommelier at Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington DC, is one such appreciator of the razzle and dazzle of a bottle of bubbly - but it's a love-hate relationship, especially because Champagne tastes so darn exquisite.
Five Reasons To Not Like Champagne: Daniel Lobsenz
1. She tastes so good, it makes all others seem inadequate.
They invented the process of secondary fermentation in the bottle. I often make the comparison of mass produced Budweiser to a fine Belgian ale, one is carbonated through a means of mass production while the other is slowly fermented in bottle and the taste difference is obvious.
This process is a much slower and more expensive method, but it yields wines that have much more complexity; namely softer and finer bubbles, more complex secondary and tertiary aromas (brioche, crème brûlée, spice, etc.) and a longer finish.
As opposed to the simple fruit forward nature of something like prosecco, Champagne exhibits great fruit, but also minerality, earth, spice, and those interesting yeasty notes that can vary from fresh bread to very savory umami notes when the wine has aged a long time.
The thing is, we get so distracted by the bubbles that we tend to think of all bubbly wines as the same (we call them all champagne even when we know that Champagne is a regional designation). Most consumers notice a difference between the $5 California appellation 'red wine' and a good quality Napa Cab that may cost $25. However, for some reason, many consumers don't acknowledge this difference of quality when it comes to sparkling wine.
It’s up to the Champagne producers and other industry players like retailers, bartenders and sommeliers to show the market that difference. Of course, there are other good sparkling wines: Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy, and many good sparkling houses in the US and Australia that make good traditional method sparkling wine."
2. Unlike beer goggles, Champagne makes everyone else seem uglier and beneath you when you drink it.
Champagne has long been associated with celebration and there are historical documents to prove that it was on the table when these major events in history occurred (in earliest cases, Champagne as it was then known, wasn't even a sparkling wine but the wines of the region had already created this reputation).
Today, this reputation is perpetuated through pop culture. And there is nothing wrong with it being associated as a celebratory drink. However, the wine has so much more to offer than just an indulgence a few times a year."
3. Once you get her to open up, she starts losing her bubbly nature by the minute.
As far as serving goes, I'm going to tell you a secret. I open Champagne at my house all the time, and I don't own a single flute. Flutes look nice, but they do not allow us to smell and appreciate the nuances of a great Champagne. I recommend a smaller wine glass that is more associated with serving white wines.
As far as keeping a bottle fresh, Frédéric Panaïotis, the Chef de Cave of Ruinart, put it to me like this: '1 bottle, 4 people, 15 minutes.'
While Champagne looks nice in your glass, it’s even more enjoyable in your mouth. If you want to save an open bottle, you can purchase champagne stoppers online which will buy you another day or two in the fridge (let's not forget, Champagne is also enjoyable with your eggs in the morning). You may lose a touch of carbonation, but if that CO2 is trapped in the bottle, it will help protect the wine from oxidizing.
If it is a special Champagne and or had a significant amount of age to it, finish it in one sitting among good friends."
4. She's so awesome and beautiful that other people try to pass on inferior product at the cost of her reputation.
In the US, plenty of labels like Korbel and Andre are labeled as Champagne. Even more esteemed houses, like Schramsberg, will label their wines Methode Champenoise. In 2006, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) regulated that all US sparkling wine producers must use the term 'Sparkling Wine’ or ‘Traditional Method’ on their labels. However, if these houses were making sparkling wine before that, they have a grandfather clause exemption.
When looking for bubbles and true Champagne is not in the cards, my number one concern is production method. If it does not say ‘Traditional Method’ or ‘Methode Champenoise,’ then it is probably not bottle fermented, and in my opinion does not have the same quality and complexity."
5. She's like an unscrupulous call-girl, after a night of wining and dining and promises of the best night of your life, you still wake up in a gutter with an empty wallet and the world’s worst hangover.
For another great value, I enjoy Gruet from New Mexico. They have really seen some great market expansion over the last few years and definitely over deliver for the price. Most of these wines can be found in the $15-$25 price point.
When I am looking to spend on Champagne, my favorite houses are Ruinart and Taittinger. Ruinart has incredible finesse and food pairing versatility and has a great story behind it (It is the oldest operating Champagne House as a sparkling wine producer).
Taittinger also makes a very elegant style, particularly the Tête de Cuvée "Comtes de Champagne" which is made from 100% Chardonnay (yes it is pricey).
I am also a big fan of exploring the world of Grower Champagnes: These are wines made by the actual grape growers, and they tend to have a more unique character that better reflects the vineyard source and vintage.
Among producers that are big standouts for me are Pascal Doquet, who does a blanc de blancs from the Grand Cru of Le Mesnil, which is a great site for Chardonnay.
Gaston Chiquet is another producer who makes a "Special Club" which is basically the equivalent of a Tête de Cuvée for growers; this wine blew me away on my last tasting and is half the price of a Tête de Cuvée from a major house like Moët & Chandon (Dom Perignon).
The great thing about Grower Champagnes is that they over deliver for price. Major champagne houses spend unthinkable amounts of money on marketing and packaging. They need to make that money somewhere and naturally that brings the bottle prices for these big market brands up significantly. Growers can't afford to do this. When you buy grower champagnes, you are buying the wine and nothing else.
The best thing I’d recommend is for people to get out and try different brands. I too often get people who ask for a Champagne that we do not carry and just order a cocktail or still wine instead, because we don’t have the brand that they’re used to ordering. There is so much more out there and I encourage people to try more than just one brand because that’s what their friends or favorite celebrity drinks."
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.
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