Yesterday I saw them roll in—cases and cases of Champagne and sparkling wines, all about to be floor stacked at my local supermarket. I just shook my head.
Let me explain. I have drunk a glass or Champagne or sparkling wine every night for the last 25 years. (Doing so has been, among other things, indispensable to motherhood; and the source of all patience.)
So, it’s been interesting to watch as thousands of wine articles over the last few decades have repeated the same message: Champagne and sparkling wines are not just for special occasions.
What is it about this message that we just never get? Here we all are, seemingly stuck on the bubbles-are-for-the holidays gerbil wheel once again. Even wine people who should know better increase their consumption now, but forget about these wines come January 2nd.
Paul Roberts M.S., the COO of Napa Valley’s Colgin Cellars and former beverage director of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group including Per Se in New York and the French Laundry in the Napa Valley admits, “Even I don’t drink nearly enough Champagne and sparkling wines as I should given their quality and compatibility with food.”
Roberts’ theory about the Champagne-only-for-the-holidays scenario: “Champagne has been long considered a cocktail,” he says. “It’s what you have before dinner, not what you keep having during dinner. We drink a lot of it during the holidays because the holidays are, in effect, a series of cocktail parties.” Roberts adds an interesting thought–as mixology gets more refined and cocktails get ever more appealing, the effect might be to cause Champagne and sparkling wine sales to fall.
Terry Theise, of Terry Theise Selections, and a man who more than any other has moved the needle on Champagne sales by ushering in the grower Champagne phenomenon, agrees with Roberts. “If we use Champagne like just-any-other-wine, what will take its place as the Great Aperitif?” he asks.
Eileen Crane, CEO of Domaine Carneros, the top California sparkling wine house co-owned by Taittinger, suggests that in the U.S. Puritanism may account for our reluctance toward sparkling wine. “There is a narrowly sanctioned time to enjoy it,” says Crane. “Otherwise, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. To do so, may mark you as pompous or sort of degenerate.” Crane adds that bubbly in the U.S. has long been promoted as something to be drunk when you’re in a tuxedo, compared to Europe where sparkling wines are drunk in pubs, bistros and with Sunday lunch.
Kelly Woodbridge, wine director of Denver’s Bonanno Concepts echoes Crane’s observations and adds, “Sparkling wine is inescapably seen as a luxury good, regardless of its price. Even in our casual restaurants, when a guest orders something as simple as an inexpensive glass of Cava, others at their table will bounce their eyebrows and toss a sideways glance as if to say, ‘Bubbly?!? How rakish!’”
“Still,” says Harmon Skurnik, co-owner of the New York-based importing/distribution company Skurnik Wines, “for a very small subset of wine drinkers, the times are changing. I love sushi, and I almost always drink Champagne with it. The best example of the shift may be Bubbledogs in London http://www.bubbledogs.co.uk/home), a hot dog restaurant that has only Champagne on the wine list!”
I have one last theory. I think that handed a glass of Champagne, people go mind dead and just assume it’s good. Think about all the tastings you’ve done, where you’ve compared countless chardonnays or cabernets or pinots; and you’ve thought about their styles, their merits, why they are good or not good. But with Champagne and top sparkling wines, we turn off and just sink into the hedonism of drinking them.
Not coming to any sense of how good the bubbly actually is leads to the insidious idea that it’s all just about the same anyway. (Note how Champagne producers resort to distinguishing themselves with ultra-fancy, expensive packaging especially during the holidays.)
And since it’s not really wine and not something you have to think about, it’s only for special times.
The culinary equivalent would be: All steak is the same. And I’m only going to eat steak and be excited about it on Saturday nights in October, November and December. A Wednesday in March? Oh no, steak is out of the question then.
It makes no sense.
Me? I’ll undoubtedly drink a lot of bubbles between now and New Years. But you can count on the fact that I’ll be pulling a cold bottle out of the fridge every week of 2015.
Originally Published in Tasting Panel Magazine