Fine champagne razzle-dazzled tasters
If champagne is a drink for special occasions, then last week's "Champagne and Diamonds" party at The Bistro at Century Center was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Sampling the bubbly
Champagnes tasted at "Champagne and Diamonds"
» Comte Audoin de Dampierre Cuvée (non-vintage)
» 1995 Salon Cuvée
» 1996 Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon
» 1995 Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon Rosé
» 1996 Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin "La Grande Dame"
» 1995 Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin "La Grande Dame" Rosé
» 1990 Krug Grande Cuvée
» Vintage Krug Rosé
» 1996 Louis Roederer "Cristal"
» 1995 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Rosé
A select group of guests were hosted by the restaurant's owner, Jackie Takeshita, and dined on pupus created by executive chef Rodney Uyehara. The Bistro's elegant atmosphere was the perfect setting for last Wednesday's tasting.
But nothing, even the preponderance of expensive bling (courtesy of Robert Palma Designs) on display in an adjacent room, could steal the spotlight from the bottles of bubbly behind the bar.
IN CASE you didn't know, "champagne" refers to sparkling wine from a region in France with the same name. Three types of grapes are used to produce the sparkling wine: chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir.
There are other restrictions, mostly for quality control, but also to distinguish French champagne from other countries (it's known as spumante in Italy and sekt in Germany). Rules exist to govern the way grapes are grown on the vines and handled during the production process, and all champagne must remain bottled for at least 18 months before it can be sold.
Just like regular wine, champagne undergoes a fermentation process to produce alcohol. The bubbles are the result of a secondary fermentation, during which yeast and sugar are added to the wine and cause it to become pressurized.
Depending on the type of grapes used, each type of champagne carries a different designation, either blanc de blanc (when using light-skinned grapes) or blanc de noir (when using dark-skinned grapes). Sometimes a small amount of red wine is blended in, resulting in what's sold as rosé.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
A selection of champagnes at the "Champagne and Diamonds" event at The Bistro. From right: Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame Rosé 1995, Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame Brut 1996, Louis Roederer Cristal 1995 Brut, Louis Roederer Cristal 1996 Reimus, Krug 1990 Brut, Krug Brut Rosé, Dom Perignon Rosé 1995, Dom Perignon 1996, Salon Blanc de Blanc 1995.
WHEN DRINKING top quality champagne, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, be prepared to spend some money. Every champagne we tasted had a wholesale price of at least $200 per bottle. That means that depending on where you purchase it, you can expect to shell out between $400 and $600 per bottle.
And that's if you can find it, since Hawaii is notoriously bad when it comes to availability. According to broker Emily Field, the vast majority of high-end champagne goes to restaurants, with a few bottles allotted to specialty retailers like The Wine Stop and The Liquor Collection.
Take the six bottles of 1995 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Rosé that were poured last week. Bistro manager Douglas Preisel had to call in some pretty big favors in order to score them all, after one neighbor island resort refused to give up their share.
The other thing to keep in mind is that champagne, like wine, is very subjective when it comes to taste. Don't insist on Dom Perignon if what you're really craving is a bottle of Asti spumante from the liquor aisle at Longs.
This is especially true when you're spending hundreds of dollars per bottle, and is what made "Champagne and Diamonds" such an informative evening. Until I tried glasses of 1995 Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin "La Grande Dame" Rosé and 1995 Salon Cuvée, I never realized there were more options available than just Cristal and Dom for high-end bubbly.
WHILE MOST of the champagne we tasted is no longer available to the public, you can try to get your hands on the same brands from later years.
Take the 1990 Krug Grande Cuvée, for example. Its bold, fruity flavor made it one of my favorites, but I will probably never have the chance to try this particular vintage ever again.
"I had to beg, cry and scream for this one," Takeshita told her guests as the champagne was distributed. "So please, enjoy it!"
My favorite of the bunch was the 1995 Salon Cuvée, although the 1995 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Rosé came in a close second. The Salon, released only when it's deemed "worthy of the label," was slightly sweet, without the carbonation overpowering the overall taste. The Cristal was a little more dry, but mighty tasty nonetheless.
Barfly appears every Friday in Star-Bulletin Weekend. E-mail Jason Genegabus at firstname.lastname@example.org
with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.