Thursday, January 30, 2014

Okay. I like champagne

I stand corrected, or perhaps I should say I kneel corrected. Je suis desolée. (I believe it was one of the Rombauer-Becker ladies, in The Joy of Cooking, who quoted Dumas fils as saying that certain champagnes should only be drunk kneeling with the head bared.)

I tasted a champagne last night, and it was not like bubbly stone-water. It was subtle, softly fizzing, light, slightly sweet, a little biscuit-y and buttery in its aromas, and golden, and marvelous. It was the kind of wine that mesmerizes and makes you want to take just one more sip, and another, and just one more after that. No wonder old-fashioned ladies from Fannie Farmer's time advised that it could accompany any part of any meal you liked, from aperitifs to the roast. No wonder the great Colette (I believe it was she) drank it in all moods. This one was (all in one breath) Besserat de Bellefon Brut, Cuvée des Moines, Blanc de Blancs, from Epernay, France. It costs $82 a bottle.

To decipher the label: "Besserat" and "Bellefon" are simply the surnames of the couple, M. Besserat and Mlle. Bellefon, who married and really got down to the business of establishing M. Besserat's family winery in the early 20th century. This French import may be called Champagne, of course, because it is from Champagne. Brut literally means crude or raw, and signifies the second-driest type of champagne made -- Extra Brut is the absolute driest. (The brut category of sweetness -- or lack thereof -- was created after "Extra dry" and "Sec," dry, had been around for a while.) Cuvée des Moines is a type of champagne-making perfected in the 1930s, involving a smaller dose of yeasts and sugars added to the base wines, so as to produce a little less fermentation and finer, more delicate bubbles. Cuvée means the mixture of still wines that go into the champagne, and moine means "monk," so literally Cuvée des Moines would mean "monks' mixture." I assume this reference pays tribute to the role of monks like Dom Perignon in creating champagne centuries ago. Finally, blanc des blancs -- white from white -- means that the champagne is made entirely from base wines of chardonnay only.

And really, there is nothing more to say. You merely drink it, and feel grateful that some kindly soul at the wine shop bought a bottle to open, and to share.

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