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Champagne Tips From a Pro

Philippe de Crespi is co-owner of Canaille, a well-loved neighborhood French bistro in Brooklyn, N.Y. But prior to opening Canaille, de Crespi traded wines in the Hamptons and helped clients choose from amongst 500 Champagnes at The Bubble Lounge in Manhattan. We caught up with de Crespi to learn a bit more about bubbly.

Before we enjoy a glass of New Year's bubbly, what are some things we should know?

Champagne is a wine, so treat it as a wine. In France, it's considered the wine of celebration. A French household always has a minimum of one bottle in the fridge 24 [hours a day]/7 [days a week], 365 days a year. The French pop Champagne for anything, any reason to celebrate.

When a baby is born, the French bring a bottle of Champagne to the hospital. As soon as the baby comes out, they pop Champagne, give it to the mom, the nurses, and on the lips of the baby. We're not as uptight as in America.

There are a lot of great quotes about Champagne. Napoleon said, "Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it."

What should a person look for in a good Champagne?

You're looking for richness, creaminess, yeastiness and toastiness. 2000 has been the best vintage since 1990.

My favorite Champagnes are blanc to blanc, 100% chardonnay grapes. My favorite house is Salon. Eugene Aime Salon, who started it, was born in Champagne. He liked the good life, so he moved to Paris, then to New York in the 1920s, during the Belle Epoch. He made a fortune in New York in the fur business, and returned to Champagne to make a grand cru Champagne using the best Chardonnay grapes.

Salon only makes Champagne in the best years; if it's an average year they will sell the grapes to another house. They only make one or two vintages a decade.

The great prestige cuvees, like Dom Perignon or Cristal, are not made every year. Champagnes can be non-vintage, vintage or prestige cuvee, which are supposedly only made only on the good years.
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