With New Year's Eve marking the end of twenty ten (and awards season kicking in to high gear) I'm receiving questions regarding champagne. My knowledge of alcohol is different from most of my friends in the sense that I took an interest in wine long before I found beer appealing. For my last post of the year, I wanted to recount memories revolving around this particular drink.
Growing up, I would attend weddings where they liked serving me Martinelli's sparkling cider. It tasted way better than the pale liquid all the adults had. To this day, I still equate it to special occasions. It disappears faster than any soda at grandma's house on Thanksgiving.
My first experience with champagne was a wine tasting trip with students from USF's Hospitality School. I was the only one under 21, but we worked around that. For our final destination, our group paid their respects at Domaine Chandon. This is where I learned that champagne not made in the Champagne appellation of France was labeled sparkling wine in California. There may be better wineries, but DC holds a special place in my oenophile heart. It was where I fell in love with bubbles.
Turning 21 was enjoyed by doing four things. At midnight, we went to TGI Friday's to see if I would get carded (I didn't). The weekend was spent at The Getty in Malibu and Cheesecake Factory. Lastly, I met the age prerequisite and registered for Cal Poly Pomona's Wine and Spirits class. It was the only Hospitality Management elective where you could find students from ALL majors in attendance. Go figure.
Before this class, I only drank Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante and knew that red wine paired well with beef. Professor Small led thirsty students through the nuances of determining a wine's varietal by bottle shape. Using a spit bucket was the unspoken way of saying you couldn't handle your alcohol. We spent precisely one day on beer. My greatest take away was how to properly uncork a bottle of wine. Fancy gadgets aside, classic corkscrews are both timeless and effective (and the reason I used them as wedding favors).
Living in Southern California, the closest vinification could be found in Temecula. One summer, we met up with our friend Jude at the Balloon & Wine Festival. He introduced us to almond champagne from Wilson Creek Winery. It was different. A rebel bearing the "c" word with a bit of nuttiness. He planned on purchasing a case during the holidays and giving them as presents. It's that popular down here.
For my close friend's wedding, she wanted to conduct a tasting at Mumm Napa to choose her toasting wine. We spent a giddy afternoon sipping in their relaxed tasting room. I was surprised at how many options were offered. While the concept of rose colored sparkling wine confused me, it was tasty. Good thing we took notes. I believe we ended up going with the Blanc de Noirs after all.
A few years back I was watching a television show that discussed affordable (non-Dom/Cristal) champagne options. In it, the host offered an alternative to French and California styles. It was Prosecco. The sparkler was the perfect non-traditional wine I'd been searching for. It's what I prefer today.
If there's one piece of advice I like to tell my friends, it's that whatever you consider good is good. My palate isn't the same as yours. It also changes over time. I used to only drink white wine, now it's primarily red. Experiment, choose what works, and learn how to wield a corkscrew. (Note: You don't need a corkscrew to uncork a champagne bottle. Those directions can be found here.)
Happy New Year!