At this time of the year, our thoughts are inevitably drifting towards Christmas. We're going to be staying with family and friends in and around Paris over Christmas and the New Year and we've been thinking of what we can bring them.. One thing springs to mind as a "cannot fail" crowd-pleaser and that's champagne. The famous quote by Tante Lily Bollinger (right) of the eponymous champagne house says it all.. In reply to the question posed by a Daily Mail journalist, "When do you drink champagne?" - she offered this very memorable answer:
"I only drink champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
I wouldn't argue with a single word of that.. except to add I wish I could afford such largesse!!
The following summer after Madame and I were married, we were driving back up to England from the Pays Basque after our first holiday together there and we'd been invited to break the journey with P & A, two of her good friends. P was the marketing manager for Mumm champagne.. (you can see where this is going already can't you!) Anyway, we arrived at their lovely house at St-Maur on the banks of La Marne just outside Paris in the late afternoon to find P & A sat around a table in their garden with their two boys. After much vigorous kissing and handshaking, P disappeared inside the house, emerging moments later with a bottle of Mumm and some glasses.
"Pop" went the cork, glasses were clinked, toasts were drunk and Madame and I soon started to unwind after the long hot drive from the Pays Basque. It wasn't long before the bottle was "morte" and P went off to fetch another.. I'd not been accustomed to drinking champagne in quantity before - normally, a glass or two at a wedding, or maybe a bottle between friends... but this was different. It seemed P had an unlimited supply of the stuff in his cellar because when we went inside for dinner, another bottle appeared on the table. And I think another one or two after that. In fact, we drank nothing else from the time we arrived to when we finally (much later) crawled gratefully up the stairs to bed.
With it being available in such quantity, I felt able to experiment with different methods of drinking it. Firstly, the discreet economical sip (as practised at weddings - when there's some doubt as to whether or not there's going to be a refill). Then there's the "go for it" method, taking a large un-English mouthful and gulping it down. Or filling one cheek and squirting it from side to side.. Or, as in a personal fantasy of mine, filling a washing up bowl with champagne and going face-down in it! (one of these days!) The possibilities were endless.. This was another one of those "I could get used to this" moments. The perfect drink on a warm summer's evening.
I remember once overhearing a couple of women re-stocking the drinks shelves at a supermarket in England. One said to the other, "What do you think of champagne..?" to which her friend replied, "Well, it's only glorified apple juice innit.." I must be honest: years ago I never used to be that struck on it because my experience of it was limited to sipping it warm at wedding receptions.
If, for some reason, I had to be limited to only one drink for the rest of my life, it would be champagne. I just wish I could afford to indulge in a bottle* every day as Winston Churchill is reputed to have done.
* Winston's favourite was Pol Roger.
Other champagne-related quotes - but who said 'em? (Answers below)
1. Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
2. In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.
3. There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.
4. Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.
5. Champagne's funny stuff. I'm used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back, and champagne's a heavy mist before my eyes.
6. My only regret is that I did not drink more Champagne.
7. I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate . . . and I drink champagne when I lose, to console myself.
8. The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with Champagne.
9. In success you deserve it, and in defeat you need it.
10. I'm only a beer teetotaller, not a champagne teetotaller. I don't like beer.
Finally: how not to open a bottle of champagne:
Although why not!! Now where did I put that washing up bowl..?
1. Dorothy Parker
3. Bette Davis (from the movie Old Acquaintance)
4. Madame De Pompadour
5. James Stewart (from the movie The Philadelphia Story)
6. Lord Maynard Keynes, on his deathbed
7. Napoleon Bonaparte
8. Samuel Johnson
9. Winston Churchill (sounds like no 2 to me!)
10. George Bernard Shaw