Yesterday was the third annual International Champagne Day. Some say it was the second anniversary, but I think that’s because it started in Rheims a year before the Champagne Bureau USA started promoting it in America. Never mind; it was a big event all around the world, the biggest of which was in the Altman Building in New York where attendees could sample up to 150 different Champagnes from 53 producers, great and small.
I was not in New York, but my wife and I celebrated anyway, alone, happily, and respectfully. Our Champagne of choice was a non-vintage Piper-Heidsieck. I would like to say that we chose this particular wine because Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne estate I had ever visited. It was in the spring of 1955. I was driving from Wurzburg for a long weekend in Paris, and the Route National 3 (no freeway in those days) took me right through Rheims and right past Piper-Heidsieck (and several other wineries). Parking was easy (even in Paris in 1955), so I thought it’s time to learn something about that luxury wine I had seen in so many movies. I was well received and given my first-ever taste of Champagne along with a basic lesson about this wonderful wine. Piper has been a sentimental favorite of mine ever since.
That said, the real reason we chose Piper was that Costco had offered it at a very favorable price! Together, as we sipped on it, we recalled visits not only to Piper but to Pol-Roger, Moet & Chandon, Pommery, Palmer, Veuve-Cliquot, Deutz, and dozens of other grands marques in Rheims and Epernay over the years. Today these famous houses conduct organized tours through their premises for a fee. They have gift shops offering, of course, their wines. Their parking lots are always filled. There is a freeway, also right through the heart of Rheims, with a convenient interchange leading right to Pommery, Piper, and other well known Champagne houses.
Piper-Heidsieck ranks among the top tier producers. It has been in business since 1785, and its formula has changed little. On average its non-vintage blends are 55% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay; and 30% Pinot Meunier. Our bottle was only one of more than 323 million bottles of Champagne shipped around the world every year. The Interprofessionel Commite du Vin de Champagne reports that last year the region sent almost twenty million bottles to the United States.
I confess that we use Champagne often, not just on its international holiday, but we are pleased that we did our duty last night by paying our respects to the producers of the world’s most famous celebratory wine. Vive-la-joie!