Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
December 26, 2008
If there were a company town for New Years Eve, it would be Reims, France.All over the world, on the evening when the calendar turns a final page, Champagne corks are popped and bubbles spew forth to help celebrants say good-bye to the past and ring in the New Year. Champagne is the essential wine on this, the ultimate day of the year.And Reims (pronounced rahns), a city in the Champagne region of France, is home to the vast majority of the major Champagne Houses. As Detroit is home to Ford, and (for the time being, at least) Chrysler and General Motors, and Cupertino is home to Apple and Hewlett Packard, Reims is home to Champagne Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Champagne Taittinger, Champagne Piper Heidsieck and many more.While Epernay, a smaller and, dare I say it, more charming town with its picturesque vineyards and the meandering River Marne, hosts both Moet & Chandon (and their famed cuvee Dom Perignon) and Champagne Perrier Jouet, it is Reims that is the financial center of Champagnes bustling and expanding market.The effervescence of the bubbles, the creamy taste, and of course, the innovative promotion through the centuries that has positioned Champagne as the wine of the elite and of celebration have all combined to make it perhaps the worlds most famous wine.Champagne is made only in the Champagne region. In other words, only those wines that are made in Champagne from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes grown in Champagne, and are created using the traditional method (the Mthode Champenoise), can use the name Champagne. Nearly all the worlds official trade bodies have signed off on this exclusive decree and so it is. There are other sparkling wines in other places that use the same grapes (though grown in other regions) and the same methods, but their labels must use a name other than Champagne to describe what is in the bottle.Even within Champagne, there are different types of wines, and understanding what is on a label can help you decide which bottle will be best for your New Years celebration.First, consider if you would like a Vintage (read expensive) or Non-vintage Champagne. Champagne houses produce vintage bottlings only in their very best years. These wines, for connoisseurs, are the stuff of legend. An NV, as non-vintage champagne, means that the Champagne is a blend of wines from different years. Thats not a bad thing; it just means the Champagne doesnt have the pedigree associated with grapes grown in a particularly good year.Next, you should consider whether you want a special blend rather than just a standard Champagne. Three unique styles are Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noir and Ros. The first is made from 100 percent Chardonnay; the second, while it may still appear as a white wine, is made from the black-skinned grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; and Ros actually has a little red wine added to the blend to give it its heavenly hue.The difference is largely a matter of personal taste. The Blanc de Blancs will be a lighter style wine, perfect for before dinner toasts or the celebratory New Years sips. While more difficult to find, it can be a special treat. And there are few things more beautiful in a glass than a well-made pink Ros.And then there is the matter of sweetness. Champagnes are made for different palates. If you prefer your Champagne dry, look for one that is labeled Extra Brut. There are five different classifications used to indicate the amount of residual sugar in the wine. These are Extra Brut, Brut, Sec (which is kind of dry, kind of sweet), Demi-sec and, finally, Doux for pretty sweet. The lower the sugar, the dryer the Champagne.There are any number of choices, but for celebrations, quantity may trump quality. People will be toasting the New Year, after all, and not concentrating on the number of bubbles in their glasses. So instead of searching and paying for a 1992 Dom, get a few bottles of something that is good and affordable.My suggestion is a NV Veuve Cliquot Brut Yellow Label. At around $40 a bottle, this is an easy-to-find, crisp, clean sparkler blended from two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay.Uncork it slowly and sip with nostalgia for the year gone by and with anticipation for the year that will be.Happy New Year.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.