As another New Year’s Eve approaches, I realize that this week’s wine choice is rather simple. It has to be Champagne. But then I begin to wonder, why is Champagne the go-to beverage for a New Year’s celebration ?
Champagne was more or less discovered by accident. Back in the middle ages, wines were always still wines and most often consumed within a year of production. Over the centuries more and more wines were produced and exported. All wine was not being consumed as soon as it was earlier in history, because now there was more of it. Wines that would normally be consumed over the winter were now lasting till spring and summer. Yeast that was present during fermentation and inactive during cooler months was now waking up as temperatures rose in spring and creating a fizzy wine. A demand for the bubbly wine began to grow.
Dom Perignon, a French monk, was instrumental in the growth of Champagne. He improved production methods and quality, and began to package this fizzy wine in bottles instead of barrels in order to retain its effervescence. Champagne was soon the wine of kings and royalty in France. As word of this “wine of the nobles” grew, the French marketed it as such. Over the centuries as wealth spread, due to the industrial revolution, royalty and nobles weren’t the only rich people anymore. Champagne producers marketed their product to the newly rich. Too expensive a wine to be drunk daily, Champagne was a must-have for celebrations. From weddings, to christening ships, to ringing in the New Year, Champagne was, and still is, considered a must-have at any event that requires a toast.
There are many myths and legends regarding the “toast” (raising one’s glass and proclaiming “cheers” or “to your health”). One tells that, back in medieval times, water was so polluted near the cities that wine was considered one of the safest things to drink. A host would raise their glass and take a sip to assure their guests that the beverage was safe to drink. Another more literal story of the toast is, that people would simply flavor their drinks with spiced toast. But the most likely tale is that since the beginning of time people have looked for health or consideration from the gods and would make an offering to them by raising their glass.
Veuve Clicquot (non-vintage), in my opinion, is one of the better Champagnes on the market. Not nearly as pricey as Dom Perignon or Cristal, I find it offers as much in flavor. It just can’t live up to the higher-end bottles in the prestige department. With their higher-end price comes the better reputation. Perfectly balanced with bright acidity and hints of berries, Yellow Label also has a slight lemon zest. Soft and creamy and easy to drink, Champagne pairs well with many foods, from entrees consisting of pork or seafood, to just sipping along with hors d’oeuvres.