Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wedding Bells and Bubbly

This morning's Washington Post features a pleasant write-up about Champagne (and sparkling wine alternatives) to serve for that very special reception on that very special day. I've always thought it a waste to spend tens of thousands of dollars serving Dom Perignon and classified Bordeaux at weddings (money better spent on crowding-pleasing premium beer and liquor), and horror stories abound of wine aficionados serving this or that cult wine only to have someone's second cousin pound a bottle in fifteen minutes.

Of course, a way around that problem is to follow Richard Nixon's example and hoard the good stuff at the head table (at state dinners, Nixon would have red wine served blind in decanters, allowing him to enjoy Chateau Margaux in secret while his guests drank California cabernet). While this brand of Nixonian paranoia might not be to all tastes, the Post reports that some DC-area chefs have started off their parties serving vintage Champagne for a smaller circle (1996 Bollinger Grande Annee -- outstanding stuff -- for Notti Bianche's Brendan Cox and his wife Leslie) while pouring lesser sparkling wines (Bisol Prosecco) for the rest of the night.

The article, written by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, rightly points out that some of the best values in sparkling wine come from the lesser-known Champagne houses and the region's smaller growers. One of the best champagnes I have ever had came from one of the article's recommended houses, Duval-Leroy. The 1996 "Femme de Champagne" (pictured above; $65 for 500 ml) from Duval-Leroy exudes sheer luxury and class. It boasts an extraordinarily complex nose of floral aromas, white fruit, and pain grille, with hints of cheese and nuttiness, and on the palate it is incredibly poised with elegant fruit flavors. While I won't say it's batting in the same league as the 1996 Dom, for half the price the Duval-Leroy gives almost as much drinking pleasure.

Champagne is an outlier among the major French wine regions in that it is dominated by big houses like Moet, Bollinger, and Pol Roger rather than terroir-driven estates and producers. In the world of Champagne, corporate branding is much more important than the name of a grower or a vineyard (hence the easy pop references to Cris and Dom P). Yet almost perversely, this corporate dominance often creates a favorable situation for the consumer. For the sake of competition, the big houses tend to hold prices, particularly for their entry level cuvees, at a certain point, and therefore smaller growers and producers can't raise their prices above that level. Yet because the little guys aren't spending millions and millions on glitzy advertising campaigns, they almost always represent superior value -- you're paying for the grapes rather than ads in Vanity Fair.

1 comment:

William said...

And what you NEVER want to do is serve all the shitty wine first and then when it runs out have one of the guests (and coincidentally the savior of mankind) turn water into really good wine. What a waste!