Peter Downey
February 21, 2013 | Just for Fun | Peter Downey

Champagne at the Oscars

I miss the metallic-popcorn pop of flashbulbs.  The silent strobe of modern photographic lightning without that muffled report of miniature thunder is unnatural,  as is the fake shutter ‘click’ of most modern cameras and iphones.  So this Sunday, the only real ‘pops’ greeting the glitterati  at the Annual Oscar festivities will come, of course, from bottles and bumpers and cases and carloads of Champagne.  We haven’t invented a silent, digital Champagne bottle. Yet.

Why celebrate with Champagne?  Now, that is like asking “Why is the Oscar gold, man?” Since humans discovered them, both have been treasured as luxury items, sought after, collected, and employed as the simple, elegant implements of achievement and success in this life.  “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams” is the battle cry of the Rich and Famous. No matter if it is acidic, lean, yeasty, bitter, and the fizz gets up your nose. Caviar is fish eggs, so there you go…

In 2006, the European Union reclaimed several wine names from general use, and took steps to reconnect them to places of origin within the EU:  these include Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine Wine, Hock, Sauterne, Haut Sauterne, Sherry, and Tokay.  Why?  These names carry inherent value, and bear histories that can be expressed in a very specific monetary value. The French have been making laws regarding wine quality and purity for centuries, and this has led to increased prices for wines coming from recognized regions in France. Nowhere is this more obvious as in the case (pardon the pun) of Champagne.

As is true of other luxury items, the perceived monetary value of Champagne precedes the individual product. The inherent value, from strict production methods and quality control, is compounded by the intrinsic value of the terroir itself: unique amoung the AOCs of France, the appellation “Champagne” covers all the wines made there, and so every single prized bottle promotes the entire region, along with the producer, vintage, style, etc. – increasing Champagne’s value with every sale.

Still, half the sparkling wines produced in the US will have the word Champagne hiding somewhere on the label. Some have special permission from the French, as is the case with Korbel, who received this honor in the late 1800s; others will claim that the term is “semi-generic”, while using it to inflate their prices.

No matter. This Sunday, flutes and coupes will overrun with Champagne, all over Los Angeles.  I am reminded of the words attributed to Bonaparte: I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate . . . and I drink champagne when I lose, to console myself.   Champagne is perfect for the Oscars, then:  in a room where few winners will be rubbing shoulders with an increasing number of “losers” as the night progresses, it can simultaneously celebrate and console table by table. “Champagne for real pain” as we say sometimes in the Valley.

Although if anyone has the gall to think themselves a loser while sitting in that room, well then, …he is one.  Bring him a vodka-Redbull.


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