Ch’ng Poh Tiong Column

Why has Champagne lost its sparkle?

Why has Champagne lost its sparkle?

Even to the uninitiated and disinterested, it is obvious that you need balls to play squash, tennis, golf, basketball and soccer. Without them the spectacle would be surreal indeed. So I also think it fair to imagine that Champagne without bubbles is not nearly so thrilling.

True, they also produce still wines in that northerly part of frigid France, but anyone who has tasted Coteaux Champenoise – as the still wines of Champagne are called – invariably receives immediate ‘enlightenment’. Myself I always smart from the whiplash acidity and find my eyes getting blinkingly smaller with every sip.

Unless you are a masochist, the wines of Champagne are infinitely better avec, rather than sans, bubbles. The appellation contrôlée upholds that ‘Champagne’ can only be used to denote a wine with bubbles. So it seems remarkable that publicity posters and a video ad for ‘Champagne King’ should show glasses of Dom Pérignon completely flat! (‘Champagne King’ is the Chinese name for Dom Pérignon). Both are the work of fashion mogul Karl Lagerfeld.

Champagne cultivating haute couture and prêt-a-porter fashion is nothing new. But in the last few seasons, some Champagne houses have all but taken to the catwalk in their attempts to seduce the young and bony. Models are now frequently videoed sipping minibar-sized bottles of bubbly out of black straws while rouge is applied to their freckled faces.

Bubbly like POP. ‘Unconventional and impertinent, POP is a Champagne which is resolutely forward-looking, perfect for people who appreciate beauty and non-conformism and are in search of new sensations. POP is an authentic Champagne and the first especially blended to be drunk from the bottle or through a straw.’ So declares Pommery about its quarter-bottle sizer. Far from discouraging it, Pommery practically prefers if POP aficionados suck the wine and gas straight out of the electric blue bottle.

Not to be outdone in the fashion stakes, Veuve Clicquot is now accessorising its bubbly. You can purchase its bright yellow ice-jacket in both standard and magnum size. Made of Isotherm neoprene, it will ‘keep your bottle of Brut Yellow Label cool for two hours, conserving its precious aromas’. You can also accessorise yourself with the Clicquot ‘Traveller’ or ‘City Traveller’. Both look like handbags and will hold a bottle with two Champagne glasses and a bottle respectively.

For Karl Lagerfeld though, it’s not enough that Champagne becomes fashionable and trendy. The darkly shaded, white-haired designer wants Dom Pérignon to break out of its box and jump straight into bed with you.

Watch Room Service (available on YouTube.com), the video vehicle employed to launch Dom Pérignon Rosé 1996. It features Czech model Eva Herzigova waiting impatiently in a Paris hotel room. She calls and calls for a date who never arrives. Next door, a hunky male is suffering the same cruel bad scheduling with his amour. Eight o’clock becomes nine, 10, 11. Midnight, the bewitching hour, finds Eva gorging suggestively on chocolates. At 1am, the neighbours respond to the sound of a door knocking. They open theirs at the same time but the knock is for another room. They exchange furtive glances and Eva whispers ‘Hi’ before closing the door.

At 2 o’clock, checkmate! Eva discovers there is a connecting door to their rooms. She drags her magnum of bubble-less (I make this assumption since her glass is always lifeless) DP Rosé 1996 into his room and says ‘so, what’s going on here…?’

The fantastically contrived video has nothing to do with love. Or Champagne. On the contrary, it’s dripping in sexual frustration. But if the plot is brainless, the biggest sufferer is poor Dom Pérignon. Whenever it is shown in a glass, the sparkler is magnificently bubble-less. It merely sits around waiting. Not to be savoured or enjoyed but as an after-thought prop to a one-night stand.

Posters featuring Dom Pérignon 1998 with Danish model Helena Christensen are no better. Depending on which poster you look at, she is surrounded by two or three men. Suggestively energetic to say the least. Except that all of them – and their glasses – are portrayed as hopelessly flat and lifeless.

In a way, missing the fundamentals of Champagne is hardly surprising because Karl Lagerfeld has gone on record many times to say that he hardly touches alcohol since, ‘it makes me go right to sleep’. The vastly paid artistic director of the Dom Pérignon advertising campaign has also pronounced that ‘you don’t need to drink Champagne to photograph Champagne’.

That may be true but given its pitiful portrayal, Dom Pérignon might want to consider finding someone who genuinely loves Champagne. Ironically, King Karl’s favourite drink is also fizzy. He drinks it day and night. Pepsi Max anyone?

What Poh Tiong’s Been Drinking This Month

Rippon Vineyard Pinot Noir

Like a great fortune, good terroir, in the wrong hands, can be a waste. You need sensitivity to cultivate a privileged position. Particularly when the varietal concerned is Pinot Noir. Nick Mills is the fourth generation custodian of Rippon Vineyard in Central Otago. Vintages 2003, 2004, 2005 and barrel selection 2006 all have an underlying core value of freshness, acidity, structure and elegant fruit. Mills studied viticulture and oenology in Beaune and also worked at Domaines Jean-Jacques Confuron and de la Romanée-Conti.

Written by Ch’ng Poh Tiong