Many chefs de cave (winemakers) in Champagne liken the assemblage (blending grapes to forge the house style) to an artist using a palette of colors. And, as a luxury item, Champagne's connection to haute couture is irresistible. It's no coincidence that the top producers and fashion designers are called maisons or "houses."
In the tradition of the splendid collectible Deco and Nouveau posters and stemware, today's Champagne makers join with couturiers and artists to create innovative packaging and specialty gift items. Taittinger and Nicolas Feuillatte have commissioned artists (famous and up-and-coming) to design labels. Moët, Veuve Clicquot and Piper Heidsieck have underwritten young, hip designers during Fashion Weeks.
Here are a few of our naughty and nice picks for you to enjoy this New Year and Valentine's Day:
Champagne houses are also noted for their charitable contributions, and Taittinger is no exception. It introduced the Bubble T-shirt (available at http://www.kobrandm/special/t's labels and ads stress fire-engine red as the color of passion, excitement, desire, forbidden fruit.
These are also keynotes for the young, hip brand, Nicolas Feuillatte, which annually presents contemporary art prizes and partners with top cultural institutions. Each year, hot designers and artists create holiday canisters and accessories. This year's Brut comes in a perforated "bio-art" box, a turbulent, Miró-like swirl of colors punctuated by exclamation points. The Rosé canister is practically holograp size="1"hic, radiating the ultra-violet spectrum from cool indigo to azure. Christian Ghion is the latest artist to create a sleek line of accessories that blend Champagne's classic, luxe prestige and to fashion wraps for its Champagnes. A new designer bag will be unwrapped in late 2004. Meanwhile, the "plain" Brut Royal Crystal Bag ($35, including 750ml bottle) makes a statement in clear royal blue. The limited-edition POP (a pun on the sound of uncorking Champagne and acronym, "Product of Pommery") Art Collection ($38.99/3-pack) is a series of six different splits (t
Veuve Clicquot is an online pioneer: http://www.e-clicquot.com sells exclusive logo merchandise from sterling silver bookmarks to plush yellow bathrobes. Our favorite is the Murano ice bucket ($300) fashioned for Clicquot by renowned glass artist, Carlo Moretti. The sweeping crystal creation features trademark yellow and black accents resembling an abstract sunflower and a teardrop rim. Dom Pérignon set a new upscale trend by commissioning Pritzker-Prize-winning über-architect, Richard Meier (L.A.'s Getty Center, Atlanta's High Museum, etc) to design an exclusive, limited-edition (250) case. The sleek quarter-inch frosted and clear Lucite container, finished with stainless steel handles, holds six bottles of Dom Pérignon 1995, the current vintage. Meier says, "The design of this simple, luminous carrying case... is, like much of my work, expressive of a distinct transformation of modernism. It will, I believe showcase the elegant lines of the Dom Pérignon bottles." Indeed, it resembles a high-tech transparent Bondian suitcase, but here the charge within is that of the Dom. Each individually numbered case is etched with "Richard Meier for Dom Pérignon" (http://www.877spirits.com, 877-SPIRITS; $2,000).
Perrier-Jouët has always worked with leading artists and designers. 2002 was the 100th anniversary of the creation of the famous "Flower Bottle" by Art Nouveau co-founder, Emile Gallé. Christofle's Belle Époque cooler, designed to commemorate the occasion, is available exclusively through 80 Pavillon Christofle stores worldwide (877-PAVILLON; $1,800). Silversmiths at the Christofle Haute Orfèvrerie Workshop in Saint-Denis, France, handcraft each stunning holder by special order. The design was inspired by Gallé, with a curvaceous petal-shaped rim, anemone handles and white floral relief. Perrier-Jouët also teams with famed artist Guy Buffet. His signed, numbered (510), 30x24" serigraph, "Ball of the Century" is available via Napa's Michael Archer Fine Art (800-531-1894, http://www.guybuffet.com, $900). The painting cinematically alternates panels of sommeliers in cinematic fashion with rows of gold-trimmed Belle Époque revelers. Archer presents a buffet of other limited-edition Buffet images commissioned by P-J over the past 20 years, all sporting the artist's delightful caricatures of winsome waiters and somber sommeliers.
But the ultimate gift for the ultimate romantic is "Fleurtation." Perrier-Jouët recently opened its private guesthouse, Maison Belle Époque (a beautiful gated brick edifice with classic mansard roof, curved gables and white shutters) to consumers on a limited basis for exclusive tours and tastings. The day starts with a tour of the private cellar and guesthouse, followed by a Champagne tasting; a tour of the Cramant vineyards in Côte des Blancs that provide the 100% grand cru Chardonnay for all Perrier-Jouët's bottlings; a sensual, hedonistic lunch featuring caviar, truffles and foie gras; and a special parting souvenir. "Fleurtation" is based on availability by advance appointment (figure at least two weeks) only on weekdays. The minimum number of guests is 2, maximum 10 (450 euros per person, 380 for larger groups; contact Mme. Frédérique Baveret, 33-0-3/26 53 38 10; fax 22-0-3/26 54 54 55, Frederique_Baveret@perrier-jouet.fr).
Looking for cachet for less cash? Consider our Bubbly Alternatives. Champagne isn't the only region of France that produces vivacious sparklers. In fact, the Limoux region in southwest France claims to have invented the traditional bottle-fermentation process in 1531, at least a century prior to that good friar, Pérignon. Thee are two major styles: Blanquette and Crémant. Both feature local grape Mauzac, with dollops of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The recently released St. Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux 2000 ($10) features a fizzy dizzy persistence of fine bubbles, baked apple and brioche aromas and a nice citrus zing on the lengthy finish.
Limoux's major producer, Sieur d'Arques, holds Toques & Clochers, a wildly popular annual charity barrel auction of its finest single-vineyard selections, each edition hosted by 3-star Michelin chefs (Georges Blanc, Alain Ducasse, Alain Senderens, Pierre Troisgros, Paul Bocuse, et al). The proceeds help restore the region's majestic Romanesque churches and castles. Sieur d'Arques is also acclaimed for its tireless improvement of growing conditions and vinification; the fruits of that labor are prized by knowledgeable sommeliers, retailers and collectors. Until last November, the T&C line was only available stateside via private buyers at the auction. Now, Sieur d'Arques has released a top red (Occursus), white (Autan) and sparkling wine (Crémant) for the first time in the U.S. The Crémant de Limoux ($15.99) blends the top cuvées of Chardonnay (70%), Chenin Blanc (25%) and Mauzac (5%). Persistent small bubbles, ethereal mousse and pale golden highlights delight the eye. Acacia, hawthorn, peach, pear and buttered croissant tease the nose. Lively acidity counterpoints the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel, while the fruit and toast flavors linger lusciously.
Limoux is but one of many regions producing superlative value sparklers. We've always adored the Fines Bulles wines from six appellations of the Loire Valley, most utilizing Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. An upcoming release is the Saumur Brut Château de Montgueret "Tête de Cuvée" NV (65% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 15% Cabernet Franc; likely $14.99). It's a pleasing light brass color with excellent mousse. The nose seduces with earth, fresh apple, mineral, candied rose petal/violet,
Gold Plate Dining
The Frist Course