Yes, I’m a Champagne slut.
That sounds just awful, doesn’t it? Visions of decadence dance in your mind, something like that awful hip-hop version of “The Great Gatsby.” Champagne makes me weak in the knees just thinking about it. Maybe it’s the sexy shapes of the bottles. Maybe it’s all the foil or the dangerous pressure that releases in a sweet sigh from beneath the stout little cork, held in place by the delicate wire muselet. Maybe it’s the glittering bubbles that race up the insides of the flute and foam the surface. Maybe it’s because it’s meant to be gulped, not sipped, so that all that mousse fills the mouth with tiny explosions. Maybe it’s the memories that fizz inside my head when I think of all the sparkling wine I’ve consumed.
Few things make me smile as much as a glass of Champagne sitting in front of me. And Champagne is sooo versatile. It goes with most every kind of food, and a glass before dinner fills me up with enough carbonation to act as an appetite suppressant. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
About 20 years ago, I met an importer of German wines, who conducted a guided tasting at our cavernous, local wine/liquor store. The Veterinarian planned to join me later, so I sat in the backroom of the wine store, surrounded by cases of beer, some baguettes, some water, and a few good friends. The Importer enlightened us with his expertise, and, an hour or so later, I staggered into the main area of the shop awaiting my ride home. Naturally, I stopped to gaze longingly at the rack of Champagne. Mr. Importer sidled up next to me.
“You like Champagne?” It wasn’t a pick-up line, just one wine aficionado chatting with another.
“It’s my absolute favorite,” I replied, “especially a brut rosé.”
“Me, too,” he sighed. “In fact, I’m a Champagne slut.” We burst into a wine-fueled fit of laughter. It sounded crazy, and it was so, so true. When the Veterinarian arrived, we shared the joke with him, and, from then on, we were the Champagne Sluts.
I once took a job as artistic director of a dance company because the college agreed to pay me $1 for every ticket that I could sell to The Nutcracker. We put enough butts in seats to buy me six bottles of Louis Roederer’s fabled Cristal cuvée. The next year, I brought in enough to buy an entire case. So, yes, I would do anything for Champagne. I argued with 50 children between the ages of 8 and 17, let them call me a “bitch,” and wrangled with their stage-mothers, so I could secure a case of really fine Champagne for my own needy family. Then, Champagne got too expensive and was no compensation for the torture that listening to Waltz of the Flowers a thousand times can inflict on a sane person, so I quit.
25 years ago, you could get a nice bottle of non-vintage Champagne or good quality sparkling wine at a reasonable price ($18-30), especially if you bought a case and got a discount. We didn’t drink it like pop [See? You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you can’t always make her say “soda.”), but there was always a special occasion, a birthday or anniversary, an adoption, a holiday, a full moon, a hot tub, a roaring fire, whatever. Then, the price started to creep up. We gave up the expensive stuff and went in search of bargains on Champagne from equally wonderful but little-known (in the U.S.) producers, sparkling wine from the Loire and from the great Champagne producers working in California, and Prosecco from Italy. There was even decent sparkling wine from Spain, Chile, and — wait for it — New Mexico!
My Mother regularly gave the Veterinarian a bottle of non-vintage Veuve Clicquot for Christmas and, six months later, for his birthday. With the bright yellow label, it was the one bottle of wine she could pick out at the liquor store that she knew would delight him. It became his favorite brand because of the taste and became mine because of its name. Veuve is the French word for “widow”.
In the nineteenth century, my heroine, Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (née Ponsardin), was 27 when she inherited her husband’s Champagne house and not only struggled to keep it and her family’s good name alive but revolutionized the production, marketing, and popularity of Champagne. She remains known as La Grande Dame de Champagne, and Veuve’s best vintage is named her honor.
Three years ago, the Veterinarian sailed over the horizon, and the Daughter and I sat in our living room with two of our dearest friends and drank a bottle of Veuve in his memory. A week later, the night before his memorial service, we toasted him with another bottle over dinner with another group of dear friends. The perfect send-off for a Champagne slut by his own veuve.
Today, I don’t know if the renowned wine importer recalls a wacky housewife giggling with him over Champagne, but I am still a Champagne slut. The Veterinarian left me with a few bottles of real Champagne that I’ve been opening judiciously, interspersed with other sparklers, from time to time. But Champagne has a relatively short shelf-life, so I’d better have at it. After all, I have my slutty reputation to uphold. So, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!
How to open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine
Opening a bottle of Champagne is one of my more ridiculous talents. I once opened a dozen bottles of sparkling wine at a wedding reception because no one else knew how to do it. Initially, I was a little embarrassed that I was so adept at such a frivolous task, but I served an important function on the couple’s big day. (It’s really not tricky.)
Let the bottle sit quietly upright so the pressure settles. (Chilling it upright in a bucket is ideal.)
Remove the foil from around the neck, and place a clean dish towel over the top of the muselet (the wire cage).
Working underneath the towel, untwist the loop and remove the wire from the cork.
Holding the cork away from your face, grasp it firmly with the towel, and slowly twist the bottle (not the cork), until the cork releases. You should hear a sweet little sigh, not an explosion.
The towel keeps the cork from shooting across the room and catches any spills.
Pour into a clean (ie, grease- and soap-free) flute.
 The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar J. Mazzeo