That Serendipity Is In Your Glass

Heather Hartley

One question that has never haunted me is if there’s a specific season or reason for drinking Champagne. In general, it seems that writers, the French, and French writers totally get this idea. One of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters threatens, “I’ll drink your Champagne. I’ll drink every drop of it, I don’t care if it kills me.” This is the kind of deep conviction to a worthy cause that is easy and fun to support. This is also one of the rare drinks for which you are actively encouraged to brandish a weapon to open the bottle and get the party started while at the same time, be able to use the fancy action word, sabrage. Battles of bubbly bring to mind the words of Napoléon Bonaparte when he wrote, “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate . . . And I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.”

And if anybody knows about solace or the lack thereof, it is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: “Iced Champagne was poured out. Emma shivered all over as she felt it cold in her mouth.” Fifty years earlier, bon vivant Honoré de Balzac confessed, “Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.” In the more sobering early twentieth-century, playwright Paul Claudel said, “In the little moment that remains to us between crisis and catastrophe, we may as well drink a glass of Champagne.”

Whether christening a ship, celebrating pole position at Le Mans International Car Race or having fun with friends, Champagne is your go-to sparkling wine. The story goes that it was invented by happy accident by Benedictine monks in the 1530s, more than a century before Dom Perignon remarked, “Come quickly! I’m tasting stars!” And stars not to be forgotten, Muppet hipsters Kermit and Miss Piggy make la mousse look magnificent in the “The Muppet Movie”: you’ll find them sipping Sparkling Muscatel from straws, having been duly served by sommelier Steve Martin.  (Miss Piggy might agree with Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, when she declared, “Champagne is the only wine that enhances a woman’s beauty.”)

Serendipity can be beautiful, especially if it is poured from a tumbler into a chilled glass. Invented by the inimitable head bartender of the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz (currently under renovation), it is 2 parts Calvados (apple alcohol from Normandy), fresh mint, a teaspoon of sugar, 3 parts apple juice, 5 parts Champagne and all parts bliss. This is a recipe that travels well, can be enjoyed anywhere and is delightfully replicated for friends. As honorary Parisian Dorothy Parker said, “Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, content, and sufficient Champagne.”

Whatever you call it—Blanc de Blanc, Prosecco, шампанское—Champagne is not a drink that asks for forgiveness. It asks to be poured out at celebrations, for its crisp and cool flavors of red fruit or caramel or rich soil to be savored. It asks to be part of the feast. Favorite of kings and puppets and a whole pageant of people in between, Champagne grande dame Lily Bollinger possibly said it best: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.”

P.S. This column is dedicated to Lance Cleland & Erika Henao –fiancés nouveaux! Congratulations! 

Heather Hartley is Paris editor at Tin House. She’s the author of Knock Knock, released by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in or on PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She has been Co-Director of the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop literary festival and lives in Paris.