The wine of kings: the bottled lightning that for centuries has coddled both triumph and disaster for countless millions and – for a region of passionate, devoted growers and winemakers – is the very blood of life.
Yet even I think it’s almost a bit over the top drinking champagne in the nude at 40,000 feet. On the flight to the Champagne region of France with Emirates Airlines, to visit the suite of wineries served across economy, business and first class, I found myself in the onboard spa at the very pointy end of an A380, in my birthday suit, sipping 2004 Dom Perignon.
Dom is served in the first class cabin, with Moët et Chandon served in business. I was asked to compare the 2004 Dom, both in-flight and on the ground to see if there was a discernible difference in wine quality (those notes are now saved in the burgeoning file on my laptop labelled “first world problems”).
The sweet life
Perhaps it was the cabin pressure, maybe the polite smile of the spa attendant, yet somehow the champagne tasted a little sweeter, perhaps fruitier, the whole experience a little more hedonistic.
As I contemplated the bubbles, it made me think how much where we drink affects how we taste the juice.
Suddenly the wines seems more complex, tiny details emerged that I hadn't noticed before and I found myself assessing the wine rather than simply drinking it.
For a wine that is the ultimate symbol of celebration and commiseration, victory and defeat, how does the “sense of occasion” affect our appreciation?
Arriving in the Champagne region some 24 hours later, I found myself standing with a group of journalists on the hills overlooking the vineyards, preparing to answer that very question.
When Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy merged in 1987 to become LVMH, Dom Perignon – the champagne house’s prestige cuvée – came with the deal. And as the seamless public relations apparatus of this luxury giant whirred into life, I was already having a Pavlovian response to the history lesson being delivered by our guide. I wanted to taste that history, be part of it, even for the briefest moment.
Swiftly and with perfect choreography we were relocated for our tastings with Vincent Chaperon, chief oenologist of Dom Perignon. The tastings were held in a minimal room; almost Spartan compared with the indulgence and extravagance we had enjoyed up to this point.
Suddenly the wine seemed more complex, tiny details emerged that I hadn’t noticed before and I assessed the wine, rather than simply drank it. Dinner that evening was prepared by Moët et Chandon and Dom Perignon chef de cuisine Pascal Tingaud, a Michelin-starred chef used to cooking for French presidents and VIPs.
With food, the wines took on a different personality and the champagne was more about texture and mouth feel. I enjoy wine on its own, but I love it with food. Champagne is no different, with ample depth and concentration to handle more than just oysters.
Champagne’s real beauty is its suitability for all occasions. In a country where we slam it down, we forget that champagne can be simple and fresh, it can be complex and rich, it can be dry and it can be sweet. It should be drunk on release but can endure and improve with age. Champagne, above all, is a wine first – and one of the world’s greatest.
A great treat is to drink nothing but champagne for an entire meal, not just as an aperitif. It can really work and costs no more than reputable dry wines from Australia. Use wine glasses, not champagne flutes, and focus on “style” (non-vintage, vintage, blanc de blanc, blanc de noir, rosé) rather than producer.
Flying home, I was saddened to see that my trip in first class was merely to complete my “Dom” tasting. As I pouted away in Emirates business class I looked up to the pointy end to the lucky few preparing for their in-flight spa. I reminisced about my brief moment where I inhaled the rarified air of a different tax bracket and savoured the taste of Dom.
I wonder if Moët et Chandon tastes better in the nude …
The writer was a guest of Emirates.
This article first appeared in AFR Luxury magazine.