December 10, 2013 by brainslightlyfermented
I love it when wine culture and pop culture intersect in curious directions. On “It’s Supposed to Bubble”, (NSFW, language) smooth southern rap outfit UGK made up of emcees Bun B and Pimp C name drop one of the most recognized names in Champagne, Dom Perignon. We all know that brand dropping and hip-hop is no new concept- an infographic charting all of Jay-Z’s citations illustrates this point. Notice the only beverage on the list is Louis Roederer’s Cristal, a brand that famously gave hip-hop the cold shoulder when marketing director Frederic Rouzard lamented all the attention his brand was getting from the hip-hop community. My personal opinion is that Rouzard, should have been damn grateful to get the free marketing.
The lesson here is that the hip-hop community maybe should take a harder look at who they name drop (and maybe just wait for the endorsement) because the receiving end might not feel the love in return. All press is good press, right? So here an opportunity for me to riff on Champagne a little, and at the same time share one of the greatest wine-referencing songs from the golden age of hip-hop.
UGK’s tune from the early 90s urges me to ask the question: who really was this Dom Perignon character? Many may know him as the “father of Champagne”, when in fact, in his time he strived to make still wines. Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk who lived in the Abby of Hautvillers within the Champagne region of France from 1639-1715. True, Dom Perignon was a very skilled winemaker who produced very popular, highly sought after wines, but did not strive to produce the sparkling wines that resemble the style of Champagne that we enjoy today. He was the treasurer of his abby, which at the time also meant winemaker, perhaps because at the time selling wine was an avenue of revenue for the abby. So think twice the next time your H&R Block rep offers you some of his homemade wine.
“It’s sweet, but it still packs a punch”
All Champagne begins as still wine, and undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which as a by-product, produces carbon dioxide, actually a huge nuisance during Perignon’s time. He sought to avoid this secondary fermentation, even going so far as to favor using black grapes because of their tendency to be more fickle when faced with conditions that could create a secondary fermentation. Still, he championed many techniques that we still use today such as blending grapes from various vineyard sites, severe pruning, and cultivating low yields. It was his rise to fame as the face of modern Champagne that needed a little boost from some shrewd marketing.
“Dom Perignon, Original Gangster”
Moet Hennessy acquired his namesake, and slapped it on a bottle of bubbly Champagne almost 90 years ago, “Dom Perignon” debuted as a 1921 vintage champagne. Their website, does pretty good jobs of generally being ambiguous about the subject. Also, the next time you’re splitting hairs in the Champagne section (one of my daily problems, obviously) remember that Dom Perignon, Krug, Ruinart, Moet & Chandon, Chandon, & Veuve Clicquot are all owned by the same company. Kinda scary, huh? Not saying that these wines won’t be great, but keep in mind how much of that price tag goes into marketing and name-dropping. Champagne is a pretty difficult genre of wine to understand, and I think that combined with the trend of serving Champagne only as a status symbol has created a buying-by-name-only culture of Champagne consumption. Instead, an option increasing in popularity is choosing a Grower-Champagne, or a Champagne where the grapes are grown on the estate that produces the wine, often in a highly artisan style. Most good wine shops will have at least a couple options. Go to one that has a good staff too, but that goes without saying.
In all, hype or no hype, there is nothing quite like Champagne. A sparkling wine that exists in its own category. Incomparable and timeless. It very much holds the ability to transform an entire situation or evening. And you can get a great bottle for $50-75 hands down. Ok, I know that sounds like a lot, but remember that this is a special occasion wine. Now remember the last time you went out with the dudes, or ladies and dropped $50-$75 in an hour on wings and beer. So stay home on a Sunday for once, and put a bottle of the good stuff in your fridge.
PS: most of the info on Dom Perignon came from The Oxford Companion to Wine and The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.