Dirt and a rain of stars — a Champagne epiphany.
Sometimes, amidst the daily rolling-the-stone-up-a-hill, nuts, bolts and grinding of ergonomic gears, you get little gifts. It’s those delicious epiphanies that remind me why I love this gig — and stoke the fires to keep at the Quixotic business of evangelizing nuance, character and soul (when pre-digested “content” is the going concern). Harrumph. In any case, ‘tis the season, I guess and serendipity delivered, right on time, a couple aha! moments vis-à-vis bubbles and Beaujolais…
Illumination Numéro Un: Illumination indeed, (at least I feel pretty bright). Champagne was once upon a time referred to as a “rain of stars.” While that’s a pretty damned smart description, it doesn’t come close to seizing the astounding depth and elegance possible in truly great Champagne (note that “great” doesn’t necessarily have a financial correlation). Perhaps nowhere are the various misconceptions that surround wine, sparkling wine, French wine, and French sparkling wine more at work than in Champagne. For blue collar and blue blood alike, price and marque are overwhelmingly the undisputed benchmarks of quality. (Let’s not even get started on the tyranny of the masses, or questions of might making right).
Now, I’m not suggesting that the grands marques don’ make some mighty fine fizz, far from it. But I am saying that for the most part, they’re neither the most interesting, the most elegant, the best expressions of Champagne’s diverse terroirs, nor even close to being worth the money (price and value being relative).
It’s hard to express something about which you have no idea, in any genre. The big houses are run by people who are in the luxury goods business, people who have as much connection to vineyards as bankers have with farmers. Luxury is for those who prefer to be insulated from the reality of dirt and that’s what big-name Champagne is all about. With deep pockets and the entire array of winery technology and tools at their disposal, the big boys have the ability to manipulate, adjust, augment and otherwise process purchased wine into the buffed, fluffed and polished product that’s guaranteed to flatter the consumer with the means. We’re talking luxe — no questions posed, no ellipses, no statements even — just caresses and respectfully whispered assurances. Which is wonderful, if that’s what you’re after.
But enough of that already. If your musical tastes have been formed on a playlist of Muzak, Mozart is going to blow your mind. And the more you listen to Mozart, (or Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington … take your pick) the more amazed and entranced you’re likely to be.
Take away contrivance, preening, posing, crafting — the [biomatter] that goes hand-in-hand with trying to be everything to everyone… reduce a thing to its essence, factor in love and an almost primal urge to express and explore that essence, and you have character, in all its delicious integrity. In music, there’s the composition, an idea, a theme explored, an composer’s expression of the world — and there’s the interpreter, the conductor, the soloist, the bandleader who takes the composition and offers a new perspective on just what the composer was saying. In Champagne, there’s Champagne, that ever-so-special mosaic of terroirs, exposures and microclimates; there are grapes — pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier (the band, as it were); and there is the arranger-composer who appreciates the genius of the idea and brings it to expression in the voices of vineyard and grape.
The point? I’ve had the great pleasure of tasting through Terry Theise’s incredible Champagne portfolio on several different occasions now, and find that each time serves not just to provide a greater understanding, but to deepen my appreciation and amazement for the incredible range of flavors, texture, tonal color and dynamic range that can spring from the incomparable dirt of the region.
I could of course, spill endless ink describing what I’ve tasted — all of which would amount to little more than a crude, second-hand accounting, much like trying to reproduce the Mona Lisa in house paint, with a broom. A far better course is to invite you to taste for yourself. The wines of Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet and Pierre Peters are now available in all PCC stores. We feel that this selection offers a nice synopsis of different styles and terroirs from three superb growers. It’s also worth pointing out that these wines won’t set lighten your wallet any more than the stuff you see in the fancy-pants advertisements (in most cases, you’re going to spend less — and get way more) — as the prices are a reflection of just the costs of production and getting them here and don’t include huge marketing budgets and legions of spread-sheet readers.
Again, enough. I digress — and we haven’t even gotten to the part about Beaujolais. Guess that’ll have to wait for another day. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile — life is short, drink well.