Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Champagne Day

What a lovely day - a chance to celebrate champagne for itself, instead of using champagne to celebrate something else! (Although some people say Champagne Day is August 4, others December 31 - maybe we should celebrate it three times a year?) Champagne was invented in the 17th century when a Benedictine monk figured out how to trap carbon dioxide bubbles in wine, and the bubbles still distinguish it (and its imitators) from everyday wine; they also provide some odd entertainment for the bored, since a raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down from the bottom of the glass to the top as long as there are bubbles. The bubbles, and the formidable defenses that keep them in the bottle until the champagne is drunk, have traditionally made opening a bottle of champagne a test of a young man's sophistication; thanks to the wonder of the internet, he can now learn how to do it with a sword - but I think it just looks goofy, not sophisticated.

Another difficulty in drinking champagne for the first time is choosing the glass - the "showy" coupe or saucer, or the elegant tulip or flute? Coupes were invented in England around 1663, but didn't become popular until the 19th century; once it was fashionable, it showed up in artwork and perpetuated the habit, in part because it marked the drinker as someone sophisticated and wealthy enough to drink champagne. Although the French didn't design the glass, they laid claim to it, ascribing its origins to someone trying to match the shape of a French court beauty's breast. The coupe glass still shows up at weddings and receptions (where it is usually a sign that the champagne should be drunk carefully, if at all - it is probably sweet), but the favourite glass for champagne is the flute. The bubbles can dance around freely and you don't have to worry about spilling any champagne when someone bumps into you (unless they hit you pretty hard). It is best for the wine if the glasses used are simply rinsed (without using soap) in warm water and left upside down to dry, assuming none of your guests use lipstick. On the other hand, champagne tastes good from a coffee cup or even the bottle, if you have no options. Much better than skipping it!

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