CHAMPAGNE: PERCEPTION & MYTH
a conversation with Vianney Graveraux, Export Director for Champagne Salon and Delamotte
by Marla Norman, Publisher
American humorist Mark Twain once observed: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
Whether it’s the cork popping, the tiny bubbles swirling in crystal glasses, or the fact that Champagne is the beverage of choice for special occasions – the mere act of opening a bottle makes anything seem festive. Clearly, we should take Twain’s advice and drink Champagne (or Crémant, Prosecco, Cava and Sekt) more often!
Sparkling wines have fascinated wine lovers since the Middle Ages, when the wines of the Loire Valley were consumed by French Kings and their courtiers. Crémant, production was especially in demand and consequently became more refined within the region. To this day, Loire continues to be one of France’s largest sparkling wine producers outside of Champagne.
The oldest recording of sparkling wine dates back to Benedictine Monks in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France – a long way from Champagne. However, the world’s most famous Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon evidently didn’t invent Champagne, nor apparently did he exclaim” “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” Pérignon is credited with improving the quality of wines in Champagne, while a clever ad campaign in the late 19th Century is now attributed with his starry quote (Hugh Johnson – The Story of Wine)
But, then again, part of the allure of Champagne is that it is as much a blend of grapes as mythology. We enjoy both parts equally. Histories of famous Champagne houses further establish the legendary status of their wines:
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, who was widowed at 27, managed to transform her husband’s vineyard into an international Champagne house known as Veuve Clicquot.
Alexander II of Russia was worried about explosives being hidden in his wine, so Louis Roederer created clear lead glass Champagne bottles for the Czar – now famously known as Cristal
For centuries, Jacques Fourneaux, founder of Taittinger was believed to have brought the Chardonnay grape from Cyprus to France on his return from the Crusades. Sadly, genetic studies conducted by the University of California Davis disproved this charming story. Fortunately, Taittinger grapes continue to produce world-class Champagne nonetheless.
Moët & Chandon was Napoleon’s signature wine. “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.”
And, of course, the venerable house of Bollinger, dating back to 1585, is the favorite champagne of the world’s most famous spy. 007‘s quip to Agent Holly Goodhead (Roger Moore to Lois Chiles in Moonraker, 1979) set off a buying frenzy that continues today: “Bollinger? If it’s ’61, you were expecting me.”
Later, Bond (Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, 2002) plays on his own marketing magnetism when he’s asked what he’d like to drink: “If there’s any left, the ’61 Bollinger.”
CHAMPAGNES SALON & DELAMOTTE
I spoke with Vianney Graveraux, Export Director for Champagnes Salon and Delamotte, about a few of the misconceptions and myths concerning Champagne. Graveraux’s Champagne house, Delamotte, was established over 250 years ago in Reims, and is the fifth-oldest Champagne house in the region. Robert M. Parker, Jr. has called Delamotte “one of the best buys in exquisitely crafted Champagne.” Sister company Champagne Salon produces vintage Champagne but only in extraordinary years. Even then, no more than 60,000 bottles are produced at a time, with the average price around $350 per bottle.
Why in general are Champagnes so expensive?
If you look at the amount of work and aging going into making a proper quality Champagne, I would not say that it is expensive.
Why is a good Champagne like Delamotte $45 while a Champagne like Salon costs $350?
Salon is 30 times rarer than Delamotte, is recognized as one of the very best white wines in the world, has only been produced 38 times since 1905, and is desired by all wine lovers around the world.
Do you prefer a vintage Champagne or a Cuvée Blend
Depends for what occasion: NVs (Non-Vintage) are more “everyday” Champagnes, while vintages can age with grace, are food-friendly, and deliver more complexity and intensity.
Champagnes pair well with most foods, but what Champagne specifically would you pair with seafood? With a steak? With a chocolate dessert?
Seafood: Pure, cristalline Blanc de Blancs
Steak: Ripe Pinot Noir – based Champagne
Chocolate dessert: Very difficult. Actually almost nothing works, except maybe aged demi-sec Champagnes.
What is your favorite vintage and what other Champagne houses do you respect and enjoy the most?
1979 and 1995 I would say; 1979 for it’s almost exotic, decadent character; 1995 for its overall harmony and structure.
I respect all the producers who work with quality and have the pleasure of those who drink their Champagnes in mind — in other words, good grapes blended well with long time on the lees aging.
When you’re not drinking Champagne what is your wine or beverage of choice?
When I’m not drinking Champagne, it means that I’m most probably asleep.
A comment Napoleon, Twain and even James Bond could appreciate!