Champagne is Still Tops for Holiday Toasts
By robert haynes-peterson
While sparkling wine is perfect any time of the year, it seems particularly apt now, with entire holidays seemingly dedicated to bubbly. There are scores of reasons to celebrate with a glass of high-quality Champagne, but François Renaud, wine director at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, feels the elegant French drink speaks for itself. “To me, it’s the only wine that speaks of poetry,” says Renaud. “If white wine is a short story, and some red wines are novels, then Champagne is poetry. It gives you a soul-shattering experience.”
Renaud is in the process of expanding an already impressive list of small-producer and -grower Champagnes that currently includes a 1st cru Terre de Vertus from Larmandier-Bernier ($160/bottle) and Blanc de Blanc from Ulysse Collin ($200/bottle). At The Tasting Kitchen, Champagne (and non-Champagne sparklers) are served in Sauvignon Blanc or classic open coupe (cocktail) glasses, as an aperitif or dessert to Executive Chef Casey Lane’s award-winning cuisine. “It should be treated like a proper wine,” Renaud insists. “These glasses are the only ones that let you experience the full texture of Champagne, not just the bubbles.”
Part of the joy of Champagne is that although it’s a relatively rules-driven wine, each vintage, each tweak in the blends, the presence or absence of residual sugar, and the fine points of production at each house create a vast world of complex, subtle variation. Two new releases this fall exemplify the broad possibilities that exist in the realm of Champagne.
The celebrated Charles Heidsieck has unveiled the first expressions of the brut reserve and rosé reserve bottled by Thierry Roset in his new role as chef de cave. The expressions maintain the full-bodied, yeast-influenced flavor profiles Charles Heidsieck aficionados have grown to love, now enveloped in an even more refined elegance. The new blends feature 60 different crus (fewer than before) and the use of more than 40 percent reserve wine. The reduction in crus gives the finished Champagne added finesse and a softer approachability. Retro packaging invokes the label and bottling styles used by the brand at its inception in 1851.
Beau Joie—a young label—has released its limited-edition vintage 1999 jeroboam (three-liter “double magnum”) edition. Limited to a total of 300 bottles, the ultra-brut (zero dosage) jeroboam has been resting, since 1999, in the very bottles they’re sold in (some brands re-decant to larger formats between secondary fermentation and final bottling). With its copper-clad bottle jacket and extra-large format, the 60 percent Pinot/40 percent Chardonnay blend is ideal for groups making a statement. As a result, you’re likely to find it on high-profile bottle service menus at hotel lounges and nightclubs like Drai’s. More demure 750ml bottles of both the brut and rosé are available at some of the city’s hottest clubs and restaurants, including Avalon, AV, and Mastro’s.
“Beau reflects today’s modern lifestyle,” says Nevada-based Toast Spirits cofounder Brandis Deitelbaum, who produces Beau Joie. “It’s unusual in that it is a zero dosage (no added sugar) made from the finest grapes in Epernay, France, and designed for those who appreciate quality, innovation, and attainable luxury.”
While Champagne is completely enjoyable on its own, it is designed for maximum fun and works beautifully in food pairings or cocktails. Savor a Champagne tasting flight ($19) at Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar in Pasadena for a night out with friends, or experience a traditional Champagne saber (yes, opening a bottle of Champagne with a sword) at The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles’s newly announced “Tea on Top” afternoon tea service at WP24 Restaurant and Lounge by Wolfgang Puck ($65). Classic cocktails made with sparklers and more are done to perfection at destination drink spots like The Edison, where you’ll also find an extensive sparkling list by glass or bottle, including Perrier-Jouët ($17/$380) and Taittinger Cuvée Prestige ($110).
“Champagne is not always an easy sale in LA,” admits Renaud, despite the city’s propensity for red-carpet soirees. “You have to present it. But we have the perfect weather for Champagne. It’s a natural here.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY WILLIAM BRINSON; PROP STYLING BY SUZANNE LENZER (CHAMPAGNE)
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.