For the first time in a few years, I’ll be tuning into the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday. I’ll be watching because I really want to see Viola Davis with the award for Best Actress.
This amazing actress, wife and mother is getting her long-overdue star turn for her work in The Help, a movie about a group of maids in 1960s Mississippi.
She may seem like a late bloomer, but Viola Davis has been practicing her craft for years, giving deeply moving portrayals of people who were often in some kind of pain. One of my roles favorite was on the show “Without a Trace.” She played a mother grappling with the disappearance of her son, and the fact that TV news blasted the story of a missing blond girl, while ignoring her son’s plight.
Davis is making the most of her star turn with gorgeous awards show ensembles, which inspired the Polyvore set by Svud Je Holivud. Viola’s bubbly, dark and lovely and it inspired me to toast her with a special golden Oscar’s cocktail.
The viola, a dainty flower related to the violet and pansy, is one of my favorite edible flowers. They come in a range of gorgeous shades, and they have so much personality with markings that resemble a face. Candied or in cocktails, they have a sweet cucumber taste.
“When you see a champagne ad, what does it show?” asks the Frenchman. He answers his own question. “A car, a pretty girl or some jewelry. But what does that have to do with what’s in the bottle?”
The Frenchman in question is Enguerrand Baijot, scion of the family that owns Champagne Lanson. He visited San Francisco this week for a tasting at The Bubble Lounge as part of the brand’s re-launch in the U.S. market.
He makes a good point; most champagne ads celebrate lifestyle, rather than flavor. The Lanson difference, Baijot says, is the way they emphasize their wine-making style which creates a uniquely fresh and bright tasting champagnes.
“Lanson is the only champagne that talks about what it going on inside the bottle,” Baijot says.
When it comes to flavor profile, it seems most champagnes are in one camp or another. They’re either quite austere, acidic and young tasting or they have the deep, toasty flavors that come with age.Â A rare handful, including Lanson, manage to capture both of those characteristics.
Since the house was founded by Jean-Baptiste Lanson in 1837, the key to this balanced flavor profile has been a combination of long-aging and the house style called non-malo.
“Lanson is a champagne that sings,” says Baijot. “It’s about purity and freshness.”
It’s kind of wine-geeky, but malolactic fermentation is a natural process that happens in winemaking after the sugar in the grape juice has been converted into alcohol. Wine grapes are full of bright, fresh malic acid that’s similar to the flavor of a green apple. During malolactic fermentation or ML, malic acid is converted into lactic acid, a rounder softer acid found in yogurt, butter and cheese.
It’s hard to leave a Lanson tasting without being a smarter champagne drinker.Â But just in case, they share copies of The Little Black Book of Champagne, a concise guide to the champagne method, grapes and famous Bubbly Girls including Lily Bollinger, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss. Visit the L’Academie de Lanson website to order your complimentary copy of The Little Black Book of Champagne.
A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me the word for being afraid of the number 13. It’s triskaidecaphobia, though I admit I had to look up the exact spelling.
I didn’t think much of it until I realized that this month, which began with Sunday the 1st, would include a Friday the 13th.
But 13 isn’t always an unlucky number. A trip to Napa that started out poorly – when I discovered I’d left my wallet at home – ended with me feeling quite privileged to experience 1313 Main.
There’s a clever logo of mirrored 13s on the front, along with a window showcasing some of their favorite champagnes and sparkling wines. Inside, 1313 has a modern decor done in a range of neutral tones accented by warm red and carnelian touches.
Booze of all kinds gets villfied in January, as if it’s the (fill in the name of your favorite tipple here)’s fault that we drank too much of it over the holidays and gained weight or started the new year with a horrific hangover.
So in the interest of equal time, I thought I’d highlight some of the scientific studies showing that drinking in moderation is good for your health.
Most people know that red wine is good for your health. But did you know that champagne and sparkling wines have health benefits too?
A 2009 study conducted at the University of Reading in the UK found that polyphenols found in champagne raised nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels, keeping them relaxed. This is important because increased blood flow helps prevents any blockages which can lead to strokes or other problems.
A new wine health study by Cedars Sinai Medical Center reported on Science Daily found that moderate red wine consumption may reduce one of the risk factors for breast cancer. The 36 women in the study drank 8 ounces of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay for 30 days and then switched varietals for the next month. The study found that the Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers had elevated levels of testosterone along with lower levels of estrogen, which has been found to foster the growth of cancer cells. The doctors believe plant chemicals in the skin and seeds of red wine grapes cause the beneficial effects.
Many people start the year with a month-long liquor fast to give their livers a break. But we needn’t bother, according to a report from the British Liver Trust covered by the BBC. Instead, it’s more effective to give the liver a little break each week, by skipping alcohol for a few days.
I first tasted Champagne Lanson at the Grand Champagne Tasting at the Fairmont Hotel this spring, and rediscovered it again this winter after meeting Lanson Managing Director Paul Beavis. I love the way Lanson Black Label has a bright and fresh quality mixed with an edge of toastiness that to me says fine champagne. According to Beavis, the difference is that Lanson is made without malolactic fermentation, so the acids in the champagne stay bright and crisp, like a green apple. About $40
I love blanc de noirsÂ – sparkling wines made from a mix of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes – for the way they showcase the flavors of those red grapes. This style is extremely food-friendly as well, working with richly flavored dishes like salmon, pork or lamb. Every time I taste the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, it delights me with hints of strawberry, baked apple and white flowers.Â About $14.
An a-ha moment is when something becomes very clear to you. Kind of like the ideas in Â Oprah’s back page column “Things I Know for Sure.”
During the recent Mutual of Omaha campaign to capture real people telling their own stories, I talked about the a-ha moment on the way to my becoming The Bubbly Girl. I remember being in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic and sitting with a group of people at Nobu. One of managers at the restaurant asked me “why Champagne?” Â I think I felt put on the spot a bit; it’s not often a stranger asks you to defend your chosen avocation. But I realized, “why not Champagne?”
Then there’s the moment when the cork leaves the bottle – either with a pop or soft sigh. Either way, that bubbly is talking to you, loud and clear. Other wines speak once you get them in the glass and start to taste, but bubbly can make a statement before you take a single sip.
And then there are those bubbles, those magical and mesmerizing streams of tiny pearls that erupt once champagne or sparkling wine is poured into a flute. I love the way they a release a stream of memories; maybe it was the Sunday afternoon bubbly with a boyfriend or girlfriend, Â the Dom Perignon at a wedding, the prosecco and prosciutto on a trip to Italy or the before-dinner champagne with a friend who’s not with us anymore. Thinking back, those moments were all happy ones, and that glass in our hand connects us to all those bottled up good feelings.
Plus when it comes to food-pairing, bubbly just happens to be the best category of wine in the world. I like the idea of Â bringing more happiness to people’s lives, especially when it’s something as simple as opening a bottle of bubbly.
I think we have – or can have – a-ha moments all the time. Maybe even every day. We just have to be paying attention to that little voice inside that tells us “this is not for me” or “yes, this is what I want to do”
I love champagne. Its effervescence excites me, its crispness makes me smile and its very aura is appealing. I drink it all, from the little grower champagnes to the Grand Dames. No other drink has the same complex creation, the unique history or the emotional impact.
Today on Champagne Day, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a few years ago about the way champagne is marketed to maintain its unique pop culture status.
Clear morning sunlight is just breaking over the distant hills, but Iâ€™ve been sipping champagne for an hour, floating in a hot air balloon at 2,500 feet above the Sonoran desert near Phoenix. A white scarf that recalls the magnificent men in their flying machines is draped around my neck.Â The silence is broken by the roar of the propane burners that keep the elegant white balloon with its silvery vine logo afloat.
The occasion? Krug Champagne is flossing its unique brand of bespoke luxury in this $500,000 balloon outfitted with hand-tooled white leather, a mid-fight repast created by a French culinary designer and a pilot with a British accent.
Perrier JouÃ«t By and For â€“ a true bespoke bubbly — burst on the scene this spring as the most expensive champagne to date. Celebs Sophie Marceau and Marianne Faithfull have jumped at the chance to be one of the lucky 100 to buy a case for about $98,000. The price includes a trip to Paris for four, â€œpersonalityâ€ champagne blending with the chef de caves, and lunch at the Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay. If thatâ€™s not enough, then consider dropping another $165,000 for the Van Cleef & Arpels anemone flower brooch set with 450 diamonds and 259 yellow sapphires that commemorates the launch.
But by far the most egregious example of the power of marketing is Armand de Brignac champagne, aka â€œAce of Spadesâ€ that was introduced by rapper Jay Z. A few years ago, the Cattier family had little success selling champagne for about $64 a bottle in the U.S. Their fortunes changed after Cattier Champagne â€“ poured into a shiny gold bottle â€“ appeared in the Jay-Z video â€œShow Me What You Got.â€ Now it sells for $300 a pop.
Though the flying Krug room takes champagne marketing to new heights, at least thereâ€™s a historical precedent. In the late 1700s when the French balloon aviation pioneers took a flight, they always carried a bottle of champagne as a peace offering since the balloon were prone to landing unexpectedly in some poor farmerâ€™s field.
For the past few weeks, a new friend has been telling me about the wine bargains he finds at a placed called Grocery Outlet. Actually, he calls it Gross Out, soÂ can’t say I had been in a hurry to get over there. But when he brought a couple white wines to dinner that were surprisingly good, my curiosity got the best of me.
It looks like a bodega outside, with bins piled high with oranges and mini watermelons. Inside, racks are piled equally high with everything from toilet paper and toothpaste to flower pots. I snagged some organic baby green mix in the produce section, then went to track down the wine. Along the way I noticed a very extensive cheese section, where a woman explained to her friend what “ricotta salata” was.
On the display opposite the cheese, I spotted my first wines. I picked up an Italian one in a familiar berry shade of magenta. The label said Casorzo D.O.C. Ricossa Antica Casa.Â The description on the back read: “a semi-sweet sparkling frizzante style wine of fragrant floral aromas with hints of rose petal and a soft smooth taste.”
That description told me I had found a wine that contained some brachetto, the red grape from Piedmont typically made into sweetly balanced sparklers with distinctive rose and berry aromas and flavors. A wine with word brachetto on the label will usually run $18 to $22. Grocery Outlet was selling it for $7.99 – perfect for making sangria.
In the wine aisle, I spotted all kinds of wine, mostly unfamiliar. Many of the wines were blends, such as the Spanish white Pazo de Monterey that my friend had brought to dinner. It was marked $2.99 here, but drank much better. A Google search revealed that the blend of treixadura and godello grapes that had soft apple and floral aromas sells for $9 to $12 around the country.
The Grand Champagne Tasting at the Westin St. Francis last week was glorious. Walking into the light-filled room done in gold and crystal on the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis was like stepping into champagne heaven.
Around the room that offered a panoramic view of San Francisco on a sunny day, more than 100 different styles of icy champagne rested in silver buckets, just waiting to be tasted.
“We have to defend this idea that champagne is from Champagne,” said Thibault le Mailloux, the new communications director of the CIVC visiting from France.
One of the best ways to do that is by letting people taste fine champagnes from smaller houses that often don’t get as much attention from consumers.Â “We thought this was an opportunity to show the diversity and richness of the Champagne area,” le Mailloux said.
As magical as it is to open any bottle of sparkling wine, opening a big bottle of bubbly when entertaining makes an even grander statement. Whether it’s a magnum which holds the equivalent of two regular bottles of wine or a massive 4-bottle Jeroboam, bigger bottles are a smart and easy way to please a crowd.
Looking back on bottles of bubbly with friends over the years, the larger format bottles seem to stand out. We celebrated wrapping up shooting for my book The Bubbly Bar with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot; I remember sharing the same wine with Tony Hawk and his friends at a party in their backyard. Krug’s rich and toasty Grande Cuvée flowed freely from magnums at an over-the-top press trip to show off the brand’s custom hot air balloon.
The cool thing about larger bottles is that ounce for ounce, they’re no more expensive than the 750. And besides their impressive size, larger format bottles win in the taste department when compared to the usual 750 ml bottles. I learned this lesson after a long and windy drive up to Mendocino County to visit Roederer Estate. The tasting room hosts pour their non vintage brut from a 750 ml bottle and a 1.5 liter magnum and letting guests taste the two side by side. The wine from the 750 was deliciously crisp and bursting with fresh green apples; the same wine from the magnum had these richer, toasty notes that usually are found in a wine that’s much older and more expensive.