101: Champagne


TAWNYA MANION (this article was published December 4, 2012)

 

A champagne cocktail. Photo by Peter, via Wikicommons.

It only takes one sip of a bubbly glass of champagne for the spirit to feel strikingly elegant, frivolous, giddy, and indulgent. Champagne can enliven the soul and entice even the shyest person into animate colloquy or a spontaneous twirl on the dance floor. Romance ignites over a flute of the bubbly liquid, making the chance of a kiss much more likely. This wine stimulates the appetite, drives away timidity, and cures any heartache that plagues the psyche.

The powerful, rich, and famous have consumed champagne in celebration of their legendary awesomeness. It is what the most privileged citizens drank during Napoleon III’s reign; it was the wine that glimmered in the glasses of the dukes and tsars of Imperial Russia. It was even rumored that Marilyn Monroe poured bottles of it in her bath to make her skin shine and her essence sparkle. Pushing beings beyond their accustomed inhibitions, champagne consumed in the proper quantities, possesses the unique quality to make you soar.

Sparkling wine becomes champagne when it comes from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France; also, it must possess the quintessential bubbles to inherit the name famously known around the world as a representation for quality sparkling wine: champagne. It acquires chalk in the soil, excellent drainage, a cool but not too chilly climate, and a nutritious top layer of soil to create its unique nature of acidic grapes in this area. The region provides a unique environment that produces perfect pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes in copious amounts to construct the magic within each bottle of sparkling wine.  The value of the chalky white soil is so high that the residents plant vineyards all the way up to their back doors. The people from this special terroir feel “why waste a good thing”, and, without hesitation, agree with their collective state of mind.

L’ivresse de Polichinelle by Joseph Faverot (b. 1862), via Wikimedia Commons

The method champenoise is the immemorial method for making sparkling wine. This intricate, labor-intensive process involves a series of tight regulations that brings the grapes from vine to bottle. The vintners press, ferment, blend, yeast age, bottle, riddle, disgorge, dose, and, lastly, cork each bottle of authentic champagne. The most fascinating aspect of sparkling wine exists in the mystery of its bubbles. The effervescence develops naturally from a second fermentation process inside the tightly corked bottles.

After you have bought your favorite bottle of champagne and are ready to drink it, it’s important that the bottle be slowly chilled in a refrigerator. Many people plunge their champagne into an ice bath or put it in the back of their freezer, which is not the best way to chill a fine wine. The proper method consists of putting the bottle into the refrigerator, which allows it to cool down gradually over the course of four to six hours. Once your bottle has chilled, take it out of the refrigerator for about twenty minute before serving. This ensures that you drink the wine at the correct temperature. Serve champagne with fruit, poached fish, spicy food, or with sugar.

Seared Champagne Scallops

  • ¼ cup roasted salted almonds
  • 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp. brut champagne
  • 1 tbsp. scallions
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 8 large sea scallops
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp. peach or apricot preserves (it depends on if you want a sweet finish or an emphasis on the brut)
  • Fresh herbs or baby arugula as garnish for the plate

Finely chop the almonds into small pieces being careful not to turn the nuts into a powder.

Mix the almonds and 4 tbsp. of olive oil in a medium bowl. Whisk in the champagne, chives, and season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Add the butter and thyme to the pan. Place the scallops in the pan, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn the scallops on the other side and spoon the butter onto the caramelized side of the scallops.

Stir the preserves and ½ tsp. of water into a small bowl. Whisk the mixture to emulsify the preserves and water.

Smear 1/2 tbsp. of preserves into the middle of a white plate. Place 2-4 scallops on top of the preserves and spoon vinaigrette on top of the scallops. Garnish with herbs

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