Other winemakers may follow the méthode champenoise, but the aristocrats of bubbly still define the market. Procedures can be copied; the magic is more difficult
Crémant, Sekt, Prosecco, Frizzante – as long as it’s got bubbles. Well perhaps. But no one will deny the mystique of real champagne, the roster of great names like ancient royal dynasties, their grand labels unmistakable across a crowded bar. Even the opening “plop” seems to have a whiplike crack that the lesser cousins never quite achieve.
Not that there is any secret about the méthode, the induced second fermentation and the careful nurture in the cellars has been followed in almost every other major wine-growing region, but hit squads of copyright lawyers have labored for generations to reserve the name for the bubbly from France’s Champagne region.
The only serious challengers to Moët, Krug, the Heidsiecks, Veuve Cliquot & others are also from the Champagne itself, the contract farmers who once delivered grapes to the big labels. Squeezed to a pittance, the farmers’ rebelled – and launched an explosion of small growers’ labels. This is where the astute drinker should be looking, and Le Cru on Petersplatz in the 1st district is a good place to start.
BRAVING THE UNKNOWN
Le Cru is not a bar exactly, but a store to do serious shopping: Workmanlike shelving is reassuringly low on hype, handwritten cards show famous names jostling with lesser. Prices are scattered mostly between €50 and €150 a bottle (up to €450 for the grand geste). The blackboard at the entrance proclaims their picks of the week, usually modestly priced unknowns, but delicious finds. Sampler glasses run €14 to €30, so this is the place to break the habit of ordering a famous label just because it feels safe.
Of course, there are méthode champagnoise products from other regions. The Spanish Freixenet has several good ones, likewise the Alsatian Crémants, and the Sekts from Germany’s great Rheingau region, crisp and brut dry. Here in Austria are three of the best: Hochriegel, Schlumberger and Kattus, the toasts of princes, priced for the people.
The “Champagne Charlie” of the music hall is still the icon of the magic elixir, that somewhat rumpled dandy, top hat askew and black tie dangling in the early morning light after a night on the town. In Vienna, the tone lives on in the tradition of the champagne bar, beginning with Le Bar, at Hotel Sans Souci on Burggasse. Here the polished wood paneling shimmers with mirrors and chandeliers, compressed into an intimate space for that fin de sièclefrisson. They serve Ruinart Brut, Rosé or Vintage, with homemade chips and olives on the house. Sadly, they don’t screen for T-shirts and trainers, so dress up properly like the Viennese, and you’ll own the place. Near the Staatsoper in the Hotel Meridien is Le Moët. Nomen est omenfor the champagne, but nothing wrong with that, starting at €12/glass, €75 a bottle. This is a high-toned cocktail and dinner space popular with business types; so sip slowly and keep your ears open. And fill me in later.
Back toward Schwedenplatz is Dosage on Fleischmarkt – a dedicated champagne bar on a modern wavelength, with basic brick vaulting above and cool indirect lighting as you gaze into those beautiful eyes … or your glass. Which are part of the fun: impossibly thin Zatos, as delicate as a spider’s web. No need to settle the war of the faiths on the proper vessel for champagne, between the Anglo-Saxon stemmed bowl and the Continental narrow flute. Maître de cérémonie Friso Schopper has created his own: Zalto’s magnificent Burgundy glass chopped down by two-thirds to create a unique chalice of magical lightness. Oysters and truffle chips complete the picture.
CHAMPIONS OF BUBBLYS
1., Petersplatz 8
(01) 533 42 60
1., Opernring 13
(01) 588 90 70 40
7., Burggasse 2
(01) 522 25 20 194
1., Fleischmarkt 16
Mon-Sat 16:00- 22:00
0664 132 72 63
BRAVING THE UNKNOWN