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Champagne, the French Elixir


Champagne! Nine letters that give me goose bumps… Like Napoleon, I can’t imagine my life without it, as he once said: “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate. I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.”

It all started with French monk Dom Perignon who discovered Champagne in the 17th century and who, it is claimed, famously declared Come quickly, I am tasting the stars’’.

Champange – the beau monde’s favourite drink

Madame de Pompadour asserted “Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it”.  Winston Churchill paid the compliment “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it”. Charles Dickens maintained “Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life”. Coco Chanel confessed “I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not” and Brigitte Bardot averred “Champagne is the one thing that gives me zest when I feel tired”.

Everyone agrees: Champagne is unique.

If you don’t go overboard, one of the key principles of the positive approach to food and life of the French, Champagne is both comparatively healthy and not fattening. Very dry, it is quite low in calories, less than red or white wines. Bubbles are proved to make you drink slower and to feel full quicker. Research also found that Champagne seems to help short-term memory. Made of red and white grapes, Champagne contains resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine which some scientists say is beneficial for your heart. Good quality Champagne is low in histamines and usually doesn’t trigger headaches.

A French way of life

Mireille Guiliano, one of the French Paradox pioneers who wrote the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat, talks beautifully about Champagne, one of the cornerstones of the French way of living and culture. “I love the mood Champagne creates, the feeling no other wine can come close to: celebration, life-affirming joy. I find Champagne a forgiving wine, too. The drama in the glass makes it hard to drink it too quickly.”

As a former Veuve Clicquot VP, Mireille knows a thing or two about this unique festive wine: “Seafood and fish are what I love best with my glass of bubbly. Fish preparations, as long as they are not heavy on cream, are wonderful with Champagne. White meats are a great match too and as for veggies, mushrooms are the ideal marriage.” Her super easy and super quick Chicken au Champagne recipe is to die for and is a great alternative to the traditional Christmas Dinde Aux Marrons… But you might also be tempted to keep this indulgent recipe for an important date. Between you and me, it works!

Obtaining the exclusive worldwide use of the Champagne name (even Yves Saint Laurent had to change the name of its popular perfume called Champagne, costing millions of dollars to the French luxury brand), strengthens its unique status. A major win to fight cheap artificially carbonated fizzy wines. This new major acknowledgement pairs very nicely with the gastronomic diet of the French status as a ‘World Heritage Treasure’ granted by the UNESCO in 2010.

Champagne etiquette

Here are three French etiquette rules to follow by the letter:

Always drink Champagne with food. It’s not beer, or spirit…

Never drink with food that kills Champagne’s flavours such as asparagus and, unfortunately, chocolate. So please, don’t eat la Buche de Noel with some Champagne.

Enjoy it out of coupes and not flutes. It’s the latest chic!

Coupes are back in all super chic trendy bars from NYC to Paris. They are the true symbol of chic, glamour and ‘classe’. Legend has it that the coupe glass was moulded from Marie-Antoinette’s left breast. Others will say it was from the Marquise de Pompadour, Madame du Barry or even the Imperatrice Josephine, Napoleon’s wife.  Its small size and its rounded shape make it perfect to hold and definitely adds ‘allure’. It’s true that flutes are a bit tricky. As author Jarod Kintz puts it: “Am I the only guy that holds a flute of champagne like it’s a musical instrument?” Nothing can beat the chic of a Piscine (literally Swimming Pool): simply pour quality Champagne over crushed ice in a beautiful coupe… You are back in the glamorous 50s or 60s in Saint-Germain in Paris. Vintage coupes are the choice du jour, new ones aren’t as chic.

Champagne with everything

Nothing beats an ice cream or a sorbet au Champagne from Berthillon. Or a few macarons au Champagne from Ladurée. Or an éclair au Champagne from Fauchon. A cake au Champagne from Pierre Hermé… I could go on and on and on. “My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne” (John Maynard Keynes). Well, I don’t think I’ll ever be like John. Ever!

French nutritionist Yves Calmette loves Champagne and explains that a little bit of what you fancy doesn’t do any harm from time to time…

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