Planning for a dinner party at my house that was to feature a vertical of Opus One wines from the 1980’s donated by a friend, I was struck by the need for an appropriate Champagne to open the evening. It became a problem because I soon realized I could not find it in Stockton.
Of all wines, Champagne commands more “image” than any. My favorite day to day Champagne is from Napa, Domaine Chandon Brut. It’s cheap and good. I couldn’t place a “cheap” drink in the company of Opus, which if not anything else, is well known for its expensive price. Then there are the “usuals” you run into in any wine shop that are more expensive, Veuve Clicquot, Mumm’s, Tattinger etc. These had the image problem of being just that: usuals.
O.K. How about Dom Perignon, that expensive, luxury label produced by Moet et Chandon, the parent company of the Napa label I so like? As I thought about it, a realization dawned on me that Dom Perignon, good as it is, also has an image problem. It has become the Champagne equivalent of a Cadillac Escalade. It should be for pimps and whores only!
Well, maybe not. But you catch my drift. It is often consumed by those who have no understanding or appreciation of Champagne, usually on ceremonial occasions, simply because it is expensive and is known as a signpost of luxury.
So what’s a wine snob to do when serving others of the same ilk? I had two options: Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame, a wonderful, high end vintage Champagne that is light as silk, and quite pricy, or Billecart, in its various formulations. Unfortunately, since all these thoughts occurred to me two days before the party, I had to drive all the way to San Francisco to buy a couple of bottles of Billecart (K&L in San Francisco didn’t have La Grande Dame). You can’t find these on short notice in Stockton, and I don’t frequent wine merchants in the more nearby Sacramento. My friends and family were surprised that I drove to San Francisco and back just to buy Champagne.
The result is the picture you see. It was a perfect opening for a snobby dinner. Most of my guests had never tasted it and loved it. It was exotic enough to fit the image I was seeking, and carried itself well in the palate to satisfy otherwise experienced tasters. And it was not all that expensive, aroud $ 45 per bottle. Certainly cheaper than Dom Perignon.
I don’t know if whoever reads this will find it amusing or offensive. I personally find it sad. It is sad that one of the most wonderful drinks created by man, is relegated to celebratory status, rather than be consumed regularly as would be with Chardonnay or Cabarnet. And it is sad that considerations of image supercede all else when serving Champagne.