No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Champagne in the All Day Night of Alaska

Sister and I (she's on the right) ready to drink champagne

In the December holiday the ten-year old and I flew to Alaska to have time with family. Days stretch to about 4 hours in the heart of winter. The rest of the time it's dark. It's well below zero and the city is covered in ice fog that makes the air biting, and the snow slow. We stay inside. Instead, we spend most of the trip at my sister's house drinking champagne. The ten year old doesn't drink. She stays downstairs hanging with her cousin. My sister and I sit upstairs drinking champagne. In the 12 days spent there, we manage to taste 14 champagnes, and a couple of cavas. (Just to be clear: we're not drunks. we're determined.)

Following are some of the ridiculous notes I made along the way. Today I'll post notes for the first four we tasted, then continue with them over the next few weeks.

1. Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Premier Cru

"I wish I had more language to describe" [moving the champagne about in her mouth]. She whispers. "Like a little translator? You just blow into it and across the screen it types out what you think." I say. She doesn't respond. She's still tasting and thinking about the champagne in her mouth.

Sharp bubbles. Mild apple and pear flavors. Mild brie flavors. Light oak--can taste the chardonnay. Pleasantly drinkable. Not a whole lot of complexity, compared to the Grand Dame, but that's an unfair comparison.

Somehow we've started talking about knee high striped socks, with short-shorts, or short skirts. Neither of us are inclined anymore to wear such things. It's not clear to me I ever was.

2. Pierre Peters Mesnil Blanc de Blanc

Our first guest arrives. We are drinking the Pierre Peters. It's taste is sharp in the mouth. My sister and I are both saying we don't know that we'll buy it again, though it would be good for brunch with eggs and French cheese. Our guest sits for a while, then begins to tell us about traveling in her late teens and twenties. She took a lot of road trips around the United States.

Less sophisticated range of flavors than the Vilmart. This is not surprising since it is a blanc-de-blanc. The Vilmart hosts all three grapes used for producing champagne--chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. A blanc de blanc only offers the chardonnay. An oaky bite at the front of the mouth. Very acidic. Needs a strong cheese, or omelette with strong cheese to help temper the sharpness of the wine.

They start telling me there is this man they both know that they think I should meet. I'm skeptical. I'm not interested in being set up with anyone. They keep telling me, no, no, it's not like that. He and I would just get along. I tell them no again. They try one more time, and finally I relent. Fine, call him, I say. They call him. He says he'll come over in an hour. Finally, to distract them from it I ask our guest about her roadtrips.

3. La Grande Dame Veuve Cliquot (Limited Pucci Edition) 1996

She drove through a reservation in the American West at Halloween one year. There were bonfires everywhere, she said. Bonfires in the dark, and she was driving all alone.

Then one summer she was crossing the south, again, all alone. She passed through Memphis when an enormous thunder storm took up. Crossing into Arkansas, heading west, the sky was blacker than black. The rain would fall so hard she'd be scared. She'd just keep driving.

Conversation stops.

Fruit with cream and bread. Lots of nose. Amazing burst of flavors. Full and round. Don't drink this with food so you can appreciate it more. Could have drunk this with everything, or anything.

We are transfixed.

Another guest arrives. They all know each other. I grew up with the new guest. The first one I've only met a couple of times before, though we get along, and I enjoy her company. The new guest enjoys travel too. But hers has been based more in flying to new places in other parts of the world she's never been before. A couple years ago she went to Korea. There, she tells us, karaoke is huge. There is karaoke everywhere. Even in the taxi cabs. We're laughing. Can you imagine the job of a taxi driver in a place where everyone is always singing?

4. Andre Jacquart Mesnil Premier Cru Blanc de Blanc

The doorbell rings. I answer the door so my sister won't have to go downstairs. It's the man they've called to come over and meet me. We go upstairs. He sits next to his friend, my sister. My sister's telling stories about having lived in Manhattan. We realize we're hungry. The last blanc de blanc begged for French cheese so we decide we'll oblige this one. She makes us spinich and brie omelettes.

Amazingly complex, even for a single grape champagne. Didn't only have the brightness of chardonnay. More in the mouth. Would drink again. Drinkable on its own. Good with soft cheese.

He's quiet but listens to what others are saying. He offers comments when he has something to say. He tastes the champagne but isn't that into drinking in general. Still, he appreciates trying things. I still don't want to be set up with anyone. But even so, he's interesting.


  1. I love the way you did this, except you forgot to mention the Confit de Canard Tart that we made along the way. The omelettes were the next morning with what was left of the Andre Jacquart.

  2. Loved.this.

    What a sublime experience! Josh and I have shared slivers of moments similar to this, and it is so fun!


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  4. mmmm, i envy you that you drank the grande dame. i have never tried it, and your description of the bouquet is sooooo mouth-watering. i can't wait to read the other entries on this theme.