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