A Brief History of Champagne

If you’re celebrating with champagne for an anniversary, Valentine’s Day, or any other occasion, why not pleasantly surprise your company by knowing the history of this beloved drink? For example, did you know that champagne was really red and flat for most of its existence? Yet, we now know it as white and oh-so-bubbly. Champagne is more interesting than you may think. The bubbly goodness has a vast history as it’s been enjoyed for many generations. 
We have the Romans to thank for the very origins of champagne; they were the first group to plant vineyards in northeast France, where most grapes used in champagne are now grown. Then, in 987, Hugh Capet, the then King of France, started a tradition that included displaying wine in an elaborate way during coronation banquets. There proved to many challenged for growing grapes for red wine in this northern area, and this led the people to search for alternatives and innovations.
For many reasons, the pressure inside the weak early wine bottles of France caused many bottles of wine to explode. The Champenois considered the bubbles in the bottles that remained in tact to mean that the wine was faulty. Even in the late 1600s, people in the region were still trying to make sure that their wines didn’t have bubbles. Meanwhile, however, English people were cultivating quite a taste for bubbly wines.
Many changes were in place throughout the tastes of the public and the wine industries. The current versions of champagne as we know and love them were starting to be made on a large scale and were much beloved in the 19th century, and champagne is now synonymous with partying, royalty, celebrations, and good times.

The Champagne of Champagnes: Moet & Chandon

Looking for the "best of the best" when it comes to champagne? If so, you should check out Moet & Chandor - once of the finest makers in the business! they have such a large number of high quality champagnes that it is hard to keep up - but here are a few of the best (the ones that will really tickle you pink... so to speak):

Moet & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage  2003   

Moet & Chandon Brut Vintage 1998 Wine        

Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial White    

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2002 Wine        



Attend a Champagne Tasting

Many people have gone to wine tastings, but champagne tastings can be just as much fun to attend. Like wine, champagne is an acquired taste—though many people who don’t enjoy wine do like champagne, depending on its kind, due to its sweetness and bubbliciousness.

To find a champagne tasting near you, just look up your favorite wine and spirits provider. See if they have any in-store events you can attend. Various wineries will surely have champagne tastings as well; just search for the nearest winery in your area and see if you need to schedule a tasting.

The beauty of a winery tasting is that you often don’t have to pay much, if anything, and you can also get cheap tours, making the outing a perfect cheap date. If you do end up drinking more than you had intended, however, it’s always a good idea to book a room at the winery so you don’t drive home that night.

Mini Champagne Cans

Juice Boxes for Grown Ups

I thought I had completely discovered my love for Champagne, but I was wrong.  It was a brisk, fall day when my husband came home from a party carrying a present for me.  It was a petite pink can with a tiny pink straw attached to the side.  And inside?  Amazingness. 

I opened the silver and pink octagonal box noting how fun it looked and felt.  Peering inside, I found four petite aluminum cans measuring at 187ml each crafted in a  gorgeous pink that is neither girly nor punk rock, but the perfect shade for sipping.  I pulled out the extending bendy straw, popped the top, and took a sip!

Meet the Sofia Mini, Champagne in a can.  I’m sure Champagne purists will be hesitant, but this little gift my husband brought me was brilliant.   He knew I love champagne and would love this petite, portable champagne, and I did!  While it’s technically not Champagne, as it’s grown in California, it’s still sparkling and delicious.  These “Sofia Minis” are a Blanc de Blanc created by the Francis Coppola Winery.  The Sophia Minis are crisp and sweet and the perfect summer beverage.  

The Minis just go to show you that happiness can come in a can.  These petite little cans are just like juice boxes for grown ups!   I recommend these are the perfect quirky house-warming gift or to tote along on your next summer trip out.  We all know you can not bring glass onto the beach, so these cans are perfect for sipping poolside or beachside, taking to your summer concerts in the park, or an outdoor fete.  So channel your inner childhood and pop open a tiny can of sparkling wine.

Want to learn more and try out these treats for yourself?  Sophia Minis are available at local retailers for around $20/4 pack or online here.

Check out this video from the Today Show featuring the Mini Sophia and other perfect summer-y drinks. 

Kobaïa and the Magma Conundrum

Kobaïan? Good question. It’s a language created by Magma drummer Christian Vander and assigned to the fictitious story he constructed over his band’s first few albums. There’s a bit about escaping from Earth only to return and be chased off again. But that’s all nonsensical framing. And since we can’t understand the lyrics without a sheet of proper translation, it’s utterly moot.

We can hear music, though.

It was the band’s first disc, a self titled effort, sometimes called Kobaïa the introduced Vander’s ensemble to the world. Over the next few discs, the band’s sound would slowly move away from a Canterbury conception of jazz related on not just this album, but it’s follow-up – that’s the one where everyone returns to earth. But it’s these first two discs that also dispense Magma’s most engaging music. Yeah, it’s still pretty fusiony, but not problematic as it would become on 1973’s Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh.

Champagne Cocktail Party

Seven tips and a great Champagne to make your next party a success.

Few things in life are more satisfying that sitting around with a close group of friends and chatting over a nice cocktail.  Impromptu cocktail parties have fallen by the wayside and it is time to bring them back.  Cocktail parties do not need to be elaborate, expensive affairs.  Grab your favorite pen, some pretty stationary, and invite your nearest and dearest to an evening of sips, socializing, and fun.  Then follow these seven tips to help you plan your sure to be smashing affair.

Keep it cool.  If you’re expecting more than five guests, make sure to turn the air conditioner down to 65 degrees about an hour before the party.  Lots of people in a small space will heat up a room fast, make sure to keep everyone comfortable by planning ahead.

Break out your label maker.  Serving appetizers?  Good for you!  Make sure guests know what they are about to eat by putting labels on all your foods.  This is especially important if you are serving cheeses!  Make sure your guests do not have to bother you to ask which one is gruyere and which one is Havarti.  Get creative with your labels if you are having a themed fete.  Halloween party?  Print those snack names on tombstone cutouts or pumpkin shaped cards.

Set the mood with music.  Make sure you have something on in the background for your guests to enjoy, but make sure it is set at a low enough level for chatting with your neighbor.

Put out your glasses.  Everyone knows the party always ends up in the kitchen.  So keep guests out of your kitchen cabinets by arranging everything they made need neatly on the counter or sideboard like glasses, napkins, and silverware.

Turn on the right lights.  Install dimmer switches on big overhead lights, or bring in extra lamps and candles.  Soft lighting is more flattering and will make your guests want to linger.  Need help in the kitchen?  Purchase a few touch lights and install them under the cabinets.  That way you can search for that extra box of toothpicks without totally killing the mood by flipping the overhead lights on.

Keep it simple.  You do not have to spend $100 to have a stellar party.  Take guests up when they ask if there is anything they can bring or throw a theme party and ask all your guests to bring something to lighten the load.  Have everyone bring their favorite Champagne while you supply the cheese for an informal champagne tasting or throw a “just desserts” evening and have everyone bake their favorite sweet treat.

Be a guest at your own party.  Yes, it is important to make sure your guests are comfortable and carrying around full glasses, but do not forget to take time and enjoy your own party.  If you are constantly flitting around in the kitchen or doing dishes, your guests will feel obligated to help you.  Tidy up occasionally, but leave that stack of silverware in the sink, do not load the dishwasher until after everyone leaves.

A champagne I recommend for your sure to be smashing cocktail party?  Gruet Brut, a dry, crisp, and bubbly taste, perfect for those who want champagne that is not too sweet.  Around $13 per bottle, available at Binnys and Whole Foods. 

Valentine's Day Champagne: Ballatore Rosso Red Spumante

Pop the cork and get to the love making.

Ballatore Rosso Red Spumante is probably not the the first choice for those with the finest of taste, but for the rest of us this dark pink colored spumante is an inexpensive and festive champagne will make a welcome addition to any Valentine's Day celebration. I have a friend that will drink nothing but "Ballatore Red" - she basically swears by the stuff. 

You can generally find Ballatore Rosso Red Spumante wherever you happen to buy your alcohol and at around $10 or less for a bottle - this could make for an interesting (and cheap) Valentine's Day gift addition - with a box of chocolates to enjoy it with, naturally.

A few tips: serve it chilled - the colder, the better. This spumante is best served with desserts - but is sweet enough to drink alone. Oh yeah, and always drink responsibly.

Chasing the Flame: A Gay Narrative in Photographs

From teen, to (drag)queen, to author and everywhere in between.

"Chasing the Flame: A Gay Narrative in Photographs: A Gay Millennial's Progress from Shunned Student to Drag Star" is pending publication on Amazon Books and Kindle, and will be available this February for all those who are interested. After getting a death threat 5 years ago, suing the school and then eventually leaving, Michael Mangus, aged 19 is now coming out with a new book that chronicles his life in photos. 

The author of the book has been living the past few years as an "alter ego" of sorts - a miss Anita Waistline, who travels all of the country - and Canada - to perform.

The Mimosa: Crisp, Citrusy & Delicious

About a week ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying a mimosa. Never underestimate the power a mimosa can have on the start to a very lazy Sunday. This was a delicious way to start the day. So what if I consumed alcohol before noon? I enjoyed every drop. A mimosa is a very nice accompaniment to any sort of breakfast foods.

A traditional mimosa is one part chilled orange juice, with one part champagne. For my mimosa, I used Tropicana orange juice and Domaine St Michelle, which is actually a sparkling wine. I chose a bottle of their extra  dry. It tasted sweet and complemented the texture of the citrus in the orange juice. It had a deep apple taste with a sweet, almost creamy finish. The two fruits swirling together was a wonderful combination of tastes. The carbonation from bubbles in the sparkling wine was a wonderful distinct layer in the overall taste.

For a fun variation, add Grand Mariner to the mix. This is a liqueur that was formulated by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle, who learned the art of distilling spirits from his father. His father was a shopkeeper that sold wine and spirits. Grand Mariner is a blend of fine cognacs and the distilled essence of bitter orange. This liqueur is 80 proof, meaning it has 40% alcohol. This is a very popular spirit to add to drinks in France.

In old English, a mimosa was widely known as “Hair of the Dog”. This is an expression that literally means to cure oneself from a hangover, by consuming more alcohol. This expression’s origins trace to the idea that one can be cured of hydrophobia (also known as rabies) or any disease where infection occurs from a dog bite. To cure yourself, simply take hair from the dog that bit you and place it on the wound.

There is no scientific evidence that this method does actually help cure a hangover. Though it makes me wonder why the illusive Bloody Mary is so popular and a drink staple for many well before noon. Seattle weekly has a list of restaurants where you can get the top 5 Bloody Marys in the city here. If you don’t live in Seattle, make some fun plans to travel to our fair emerald city and have a night out with friends. Then consult this list for a place where you can slowly let in the light of day on the morning after. Many a Seattleite can be found wearing sunglasses, even on overcast or rainy days on the weekends, probably due to excessive alcohol consumption the night before.

So whether you choose to sip on a Mimosa or Bloody Mary, embrace the dark with those stylish shades and sip that Hair of the Dog in a dark corner brooding over the Stranger’s I SAW U column.

Champagne Cocktails: The Bellini

The Bellini is one of those extraordinary cocktails that are based on sparkling wine. It was apparently invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, the original owner of the very famous Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy, between the mid 1930s and the late 1940s. The Bellini was named for it's color; it's a lovely peach-pink; the color reminded Cipriani of the color of a saint's garb in a famous painting by 15th century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.

Traditionally, the Bellini is made with a Prosecco sparkling wine, augmented with peach purée. Traditionally, the peach purée is made of fresh white peaches that have been puréed and then strained. You then place two parts of the purée in a champagne glass (figure 1/3 of a cup at most) and add two parts of chilled sparkling Prosecco (say two thirds of a cup, or to the top of the glass). You serve the Bellini in a Champagne flute.

Some sources suggest that in Cipriani's original drink a crush raspberry or strawberry was added to the puré. If at all possible, you want to use fresh ripe peach purée. If you live in California, you can fairly easily find white peaches, but doughnut peaches will work, or any ripe flavorful peach. You don't want to use commercial frozen peaches, but peach nectar is a reasonable substitute for fresh, ripe, just puréed peaches. Other variants use peach nectar and peach schnapps, like this recipe for a Bellini cocktail, a frozen variant. What you want, absolutely, to avoid is using a heavier sparkling wine; the Prosecco is light, and neither too acidic nor too sweet, and it doesn't overwhelm the flavor and scent of the fresh peaches.

Image credit: Sean Biehle