Monday, November 17, 2008

Avoiding Champagne breath

After two weeks in South Africa and many others spent agonising over whether to move to Peru or not, I finally had to face up to the pressing matter of discovering a champagne that doesn't make you stink.

Bordeaux wine merchant Millésima held its annual pre-Christmas wine tasting this week, and champagne was the theme. No one was drunk or disorderly, no one was even giggling. A few elegant chortles, one or two high pitched laughs, but no actual rowdiness.

Funny that, after South Africa where drinking and being drunk is all much more relaxed. The extreme downside is that Foetal Alcohol Levels in the Western Cape continue to be one of the highest in the world. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is a form of physical and mental damage that happens when pregnant women drink too much. It is permanently disabling for the baby and the particularly high levels of FAS in the Cape are a hangover, literally, from the days when the dop system − paying a part of a vineyard labourer's wages in wine − was still legal.

The upside is that being on the jol (South African/Afrikaans word for partying, pronounced 'jawl') and getting a bit pissed is really not an issue in SA. Driving should obviously be avoided, but most people I know seem to have extremely efficient guardian angels. The other thing about South Africa is of course that once someone has a house, it is often large, and it's very easy to stay, as the housekeeper will usually cook you breakfast even if your hosts don't appear.

At Millésima the tone was very French, and very serious. Everyone making notes and spitting. It is quite hard to spit champagne, not just because it's nice, but also because all the bubbles mean you froth rather than just spit.

My personal quest for the evening was to find one without that particular bad breath aftertaste you get from many champagnes. In fact it's only recently I've realised it does not have to be an intrinsic part of champagne drinking.

The answer? Jacquesson 2005, Dom Pérignon 2000 and Moët & Chandon 2003. All three are perfectly classic champagnes, and would not surprise anyone − unlike the Krug 1988 I tasted, which was quite strange. Very rarefied and 'dry biscuity'. All three had big bubbly bubbles − also unlike the Krug, which is very fine. And all three were free of that sour aftertaste, which I think is yeasty, and which, although it is very nice when you smell it and first taste it, is not something you want lingering.

There you have it. A bad breath, at least the one caused by champagne, free Christmas and New Year is possible. If one can afford it that is, and if one really cares that much. In South Africa people would just glug it down and get giggly or messy, or both.

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