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Champagne For All Occasions

If you are ever invited to a dinner party in France, what you won't get is a tour of the home. Whether your French hosts' abode is un appartement en ville (an apartment in the city), une maison à la campagne (a house in the country), or une villa au bord de la mer (a house by the sea), you are likely to see only the living room and dining room. No gathering in the kitchen as the meal is being prepared, nor any guided visits of the rest of the house as is often de rigueur (the thing to do) in America. In France, ça ne se fait pas (it just isn't done).

What you are likely to experience, at the beginning of the most casual of meals or at a more formal affair, is a glass of Champagne.* The French have figured out that you don't need a wedding or an anniversary or a boat baptism to drink the most famous wine in the world. Opening a bottle of Champagne creates a special occasion all its own, transforming an ordinary moment into a festive and memorable event.

Of course, Champagne goes beyond the dinner party. Whenever I am in Paris, a must on my list is the casually elegant Champagne bar at the Hôtel Trocadéro Dokhan in the 16th arrondissement.* Mood is everything in this cozy space entirely paneled in 18th century gilded boiserie (wood paneling). Tall candles illuminate every table. After a full day of visiting friends, taking in art shows, and seeking out the latest and greatest in la capitale (Paris), there is nothing I like better than to sink into one of the deep armchairs and contemplate the Champagne offerings of the week.

The ambiance doesn't stop there. As le monsieur (the waiter) approaches to take your order, he emerges from behind the bar with a dazzling tray of Champagne glasses--tulips, coupes, flutes, and goblets of various sizes and shapes. You get to choose your bubbly AND the type of glass you will drink it in. Only in France!

Recently, I chose the featured millésime (vintage) Champagne in a violet crystal flute. My good friend Laura decided on the brut in a tulip. We clinked glasses and sipped our sparkling apéritifs while enjoying the warm and salty gougères (gourmet cheese puffs) that are a specialty of the house. It was an instant fête (party).

Champagne is plentiful in Paris, and it's easy to opt for a Champagne moment at this special bar or at any café or restaurant. But sometimes those Champagne occasions find you.

One chilly January night last year, an American friend and I were walking to dinner at Les Olivades, a delightful Provençal restaurant in the seventh arrondissement.* We approached la Tour Eiffel which was bathed in a golden glow courtesy of the 335 spotlights that come on each day at sunset. We took a flurry of photos of the Iron Lady at marvelous angles.

Then it just so happened that I paused directly under the center of the Eiffel Tower as the clock struck 8pm. Voilà, the Tower exploded in a vertical shower of twinkling white lights*...and I suddenly found myself standing inside a glass of Champagne. It was a mystical experience worthy of Dom Perignon.

After that night, for me, the Eiffel Tower lost its "been there, done that," overtouristed patina. It has even earned a place on my Paris favorites list-for the moment anyway. Now all I have to do is tote a bottle of bubbly one evening to that cherished spot and raise a real glass when the Champagne occasion comes around again.

* Le Champagne is the sparkling wine made in la Champagne, the province northeast of Paris. Any sparkling wine made outside this region, whether in France or elsewhere in the world, cannot technically be called Champagne. Vintners will sometimes put la méthode champenoise (the Champagne method) on their wine labels to indicate that their sparkling wine made in the same fashion as true Champagne.
* Hôtel Trocadéro Dokhan, 117 rue Lauriston, 75016 Paris.
* Les Olivades, 41 avenue de Ségur, 75007 Paris.
* The sparkling lights were installed to celebrate the new millennium December 31, 1999. They remain lit for the first ten minutes of every evening hour until one or two in the morning.

May 14, 2008

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