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For Bubbleheads Only

(October 13, 1997) Move over, Parker. Make way, Marvin. There's a new way to talk about wine.

      In the interest, apparently, of selling more champagne, the august Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne (Champagne Trade Association) has published the first in a series of Champagne notebooks.

      A weekend guest presented me with one. She had sent for it in the hope of learning more about Champagne. It hadn't helped, but she thought maybe I could understand it.

     I read the introduction. "This Champagne notebook is for all wine lovers who want to broaden their understanding of Champagnes," it says. So far so good. But how in particular am I going to be broadened today?

     I search for a clue. Aha! It appears in fine print at the bottom of the cover. "The Champagne vocabulary." Well, this could be great, I think. At last I'll know how to describe this stuff. So what are the words?

     "Every bottle of Champagne is an act of creation..." I read. How true. Unless you're a grape, in which case you might consider it destruction. But how about the vocabulary?

     Now the booklet continues, "there is not one Champagne but many." Indisputable!

     And now we hit the heart of the matter: "To describe this diversity of wines, the skilled Champenois producers have organised their knowledge into a distinct vocabulary all of their own."

     Aha! Now I'm about to learn all the secrets! I will have to quote extensively here, so as not to injure the poetry of the original:

     "This vocabulary captures the four basic ways in which we respond to the world, the four natural realms of human perception: Body, Heart, Spirit and Soul. Each of them encompasses certain sensations, characteristics, and styles.

     "For example, if a Champagne is strongly built, vinous, powerful, you might call it a Champagne with Body.

     "If it appears soft, gentle, and harmonious, it may be described as a Champagne with Heart.

     "If it is lively, fresh, light and refreshing, let us think of it as a Champagne with Spirit.

    "Finally, some are so exceptional, so carefully crafted, that they transcend the ordinary. These are nothing less than Champagnes with Soul.

     "In the following pages, the Champenois would like to share their intimate knowledge of Champagne wines with you, and guide you through these four realms of sensations..."

     Now we come to an impressive flavor map. Any word you can think of to describe champagne is laid out here. "Sand coloured," for example. Anyone care to guess whether which land it dwells in? If you guessed "Heart," go to the head of the class.

     But wait! How about "barley straw?" I can see I'm out of my depth. I never would have guessed "Soul."

     Then I see that "coppery" Champagnes belong to "Body" -- but so does "straw yellow" -- while "salmon coloured" ones have "Spirit."


     Nowhere, unfortunately, do I actually find which BRANDS of champagne line up with which descriptor. Perhaps a particularly fine bottle could be all four at once?

     This seems very likely, because I then learn that Champagnes with Spirit are "invariably Brut or Blanc de Blanc," while Champagnes with Heart are "Mature, Brut, often vintage," but Champagnes with Body are "usually made with a predominance of Pinot noir or Pinot Meunier." So if I had a Brut dominated by Pinot noir, I might have a Champagne with Spirit, Heart and Body all at once?

     But what about Soul? Let's see...oh, here we are. "The rarest, most collectible, fullest flavoured vintages, and the special cuvees."

     This much is clear. Soul = EXPENSIVE.

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