Champagne always makes me happy – whether it’s because of its beautifully delicate touch on the tongue or the glamour associated with it, a glass of bubbly has always signalled a celebration for me.
It’s become obligatory at all the major events in our lives – New Year’s Eve, weddings, birthdays and even Formula 1 Grand Prix podiums – how can you be sad if you have a fluted glass in your hand?
However, for me, the celebration doesn’t have to be a major event – like the fact that I have again made it to Friday night. I have always lived life with a nod of tribute to the great Madame Lily Bollinger (one of the many amazing women associated with the drop).
As she so eloquently said, “I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” Truly words to live by.
Some years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to just about the most beautiful place I can imagine – the cellars of Moët et Chandon in Epernay, France, deep in the heart of the Champagne district.
There are 28km of cellars underneath the building, which serves as the headquarters of the mighty champagne house. Here are stored vintages of some of the finest champagnes the area produces – Dom Pérignon and Moët et Chandon. An elegant building, constructed during the second empire, it has lines of classical simplicity.
Moët dates back to 1743 when founder Claude Moët began shipping champagne from Epernay to Paris. Jean-Remy Moët, grandson of Claude, became famous as the man who introduced champagne to the world. The important figures of the era, from the Marquise de Pompadour to Napoleon, quickly fell in love with the House’s effervescent wine.
Who doesn't love a glass of bubbly?
When the Nazis occupied the area, they chose Moët as their headquarters, not destroying the building and preserving it for future generations.
Rumour has it that the winemakers secretly bricked up parts of the cellars, hiding the past vintages of Dom Perignon so the Nazis wouldn’t find them. I like the fact that the Nazis never got to taste the good stuff.
The town of Epernay is set in beautiful country about 160km north east of Paris: gentle rolling hills of ordered, ancient grape vines, picture-perfect country cottages and charming villages. In fact, if you had to imagine a place where those glorious bubbles came from, this would be it. It’s straight out of central casting.
Our guide told us that it was the most expensive piece of agricultural land in the world, with land worth more than 1 million euros an acre. So these are pretty rich farmers, if you get my drift.
Champagne goes so beautifully well with hors d’ouvres, oysters, and pretty well anything. It’s also one of the few wines that tastes good with afternoon tea – indeed champagne and sponge cake is one of life’s greatest wine/food matches.
My advice? Don’t wait for a celebration to enjoy champagne. Take it from me and raise a glass at home with your significant other and enjoy what the Nazis did not. Feels good, huh?
What's your favourite glass of wine?