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Champagne Dreams

Bubbly is the glamour wine for glamorous times

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During a recent "glamping" excursion to Bear Lake's Conestoga Ranch, I found myself wishing I'd have brought some Champagne along. After all, nothing says "glamour" while glamour-camping like a beautiful bottle of bubbly.

A while back, I was talking with a well-known California winemaker about Champagne. Although she grew up in wine country, she hadn't really had much experience with sparkling wines, especially Champagne, until being treated to a birthday bottle of Dom Pérignon. "I suddenly got it," she said about the Dom. "I could really taste the difference between Dom Pérignon and the cheaper Champagnes I'd had before, and it suddenly made sense. I could understand why someone would pay $100 dollars for a bottle."

I've had a similar experience. Until I spent a week in the towns of Reims and Epernay, in the Champagne region of France, most of the Champagne I'd tasted all seemed pretty much the same. But a week's immersion in bubbles, in a place where the natives drink Champagne for lunch with their croque monsieur sandwiches, resulted in my realization that no two Champagnes taste exactly alike. Although most Champagne is produced via the same method, no two Champagne houses produce wines that taste alike. Each house has its own style and signature.

Getting back to my winemaker acquaintance, because her young wine palate hadn't been clouded yet by dozens or more Champagne experiences, it was easy for her to distinguish between Dom Pérignon and the handful of lesser Champagnes she'd tried. The difference was as clear as an empty bottle of Cristal. The Dom Pérignon tasted to her like it was worth $100.

Now, generally speaking, when it comes to wine, I'd rather have five bottles of $40 wine than one bottle that costs $200. And, although I hesitate to try to quantify something as subjective as a wine-tasting experience, it's usually the case that the $200 bottle doesn't taste to me five times better than the $40 bottle. So perhaps I'll sacrifice some quality for quantity, since my budget doesn't afford me to drink $200 wines habitually.

But, for me, the exception is Champagne, where I really do think you get what you pay for. Again, for budgetary reasons I happily drink inexpensive Spanish cavas and domestic sparkling wine more often than classy French Champagne. But a $100 bottle of Champagne usually does taste five times better to me than a $20 bottle. That's because the elite Champagne producers of France have, over the centuries, created Champagne styles that are so consistent, so refined and so dependable, that they're actually worth what they cost. A bottle of $160 Salon le Mesnil Blanc de Blanc Champagne sent me straight to sparkling-wine heaven, whereas I've had plenty of bottles of still wine in that price range that weren't particularly exceptional. And, the best bottle of Champagne usually costs a fraction of the best bottle of Burgundy. Sadly, that bottle of Salon that set me back $160 a decade ago now sells in Utah for a whopping $471. Even as much as I love Salon, it's not worth sacrificing a car payment for!

So the next time you're glamping—or generally looking to juice up the glamour quotient in your life—my advice is to take the plunge: Go out and splurge on the best bottle of Pol Roger, Krug, Bollinger, Heidseick, Salon, Perrier Jouët, Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Roederer, Gosset, Deutz, Dom Pérignon or other great Champagnes that you can afford. You'll get your money's worth.

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