HAVE you ever held a glass of champagne to eye level and, for a moment, seen everything through its gilded, shimmering filter? More than an elegant pour, champagne is shorthand for luxury and celebrations of the most opulent kind.
The drink’s most fabulous unofficial ambassador, former magazine editor and fifties fashion icon Diana Vreeland, once suggested rinsing “your blond child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France”.
Other recommendations for leftover fizz include shining your shoes, as per Parisian shoemaker Olga Berluti, who finishes a shoeshine with champagne, said to cut the fat in the polish and reveal the natural colour of the leather.
Or, you could use a sip’s worth on a cotton pad and swipe it across your face as a natural toner. American make-up artist Michelle Phan extols its “detoxifying properties and ability to fight free radicals”.
Not your coupe of champagne? Why not add it to your scrambled eggs the morning after, for extra fluffiness? Or to a beurre blanc sauce instead of white wine, to follow the example of chef Joël Robuchon, whose restaurants at one point had 32 Michelin stars among them? If your festivities are extravagant enough for about 350 bottles’ worth, take a bath in French fizz, as Marilyn Monroe was rumoured to have done. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but perhaps it was really only ever about the sparkles.
The subject of the world’s most celebratory of libations may seem a little tone-deaf after a year that hasn’t provided much opportunity to be festive (excluding the November 3 election results, that is). But, in fairness, the almost Pavlovian dopamine hit from the clean “Pop!” of a cork is undeniable – and its dainty combination of magnesium, potassium and zinc can make for a tidy little mood lift.
Our fixation with effervescence is undeniable: from blowing bubbles as babies and the illicit adolescent thrill of fizzy drinks, to the satisfaction of watching beads of champagne rising up the glass and the almost childlike excitement of a mouthful of a thousand bubbles, a special occasion is hardly required.
So, in the name of research, it’s a brief escape to the heart of Champagne country to discover what makes all that glitters within the glass. Because in France, especially when it comes to pleasure-seeking, it’s always best to go to the source.South of Reims (the region’s economic capital) and above the Cote des Blancs (and about 110 kilometres of cellars), the town of Epernay is the palace to Champagne’s kingdom. Located on what was the royal route that connected Paris to Strasbourg, it consists of 5000 separate vineyards. Much of these belong to Moët & Chandon, the region’s largest landowner, half of whose 1200-hectare vineyards produce grand cru and 25 per cent premiere cru.
Moët & Chandon was founded here in 1743 and, via the aforementioned route, became the official champagne supplier to the French court. Consider Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV and a highly influential tastemaker, who once declared champagne is “the only wine in the world that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it”.
Madame de Pompadour once declared champagne is “the only wine in the world that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it”.
Today its fans read like modern royalty: the Queen Beys and Lady Gagas of the world, giving the house plenty to celebrate – particularly on the 150th anniversary of Moët & Chandon Impérial in 2019.
The flagship champagne of the house, Moët Impérial, is the most-sold champagne in the world. It is matured in the 28 kilometres of galleries under the Moët & Hennessy Epernay headquarters – a point of interest for curious visitors, who may wish to tour the Napoleon-era relics before descending to the cellars, part sprawling and slightly confusing, like an Italian city centre; part large and grid-like, á la Manhattan.
The cellars are presided over by Benoît Gouez, chef de cave of Moët & Chandon since 2005 (and previously winemaker for the company since 1998). His biggest innovation for the house was launching Moët & Chandon’s Ice Impérial in 2011, a world-first sparkler blended to be drunk over ice, a Saint-Tropez-esque alternative to Impérial Brut. Fresher and less formal, it epitomises the freedom Gouez brings to his role at Moët & Chandon.
His current vision is for champagne to be used as confidently as wine when it comes to food pairing. A recent menu in collaboration with the champagne house’s executive chef, Marco Fadiga, paired a glass of the Impérial with slow-cooked langoustine and pineapple; a Grand Vintage 2012 with a veal blanquette with lemon sauce and, to finish, a Nectar Impérial with salted butter cookies with verbena foam. Unexpected and playful, it was served at the Château de Saran – a former hunting lodge turned Moët family home turned ultra-private, invite-only guesthouse for “friends of the maison”.
- Financial Review