Courtesy of the Embassy of France via Flickr
Courtesy of the Embassy of France via Flickr

If you are of a certain age, you may recall the song in the 1958 film “Gigi” where French actor Louis Jordan sings the iconic Alan Lerner song, “The Night They Invented Champagne” with a youthful Leslie Caron dancing around in Technicolor splendor. One can rest assured, they were singing about the real deal — Champagne.

During the Nuit du Champagne at the Embassy of France, a celebration of the bubbly wine which many people will uncork with an explosion to welcome in a new year, if it is not from France, it is not Champagne.

The French want you to know that only if the grapes were grown and the wine fermented in the Champagne district of the northern part of the European country, then and only then is it Champagne. Nowhere else and nothing else can claim the name.

​And there are the rules, such as, among other things, secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation; specific vineyard practices; sourcing of grapes exclusively from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation and specific pressing regimes unique to the that region alone.

​Aside from the strict regulations — in many countries it is downright illegal to refer to sparkling wine as “Champagne” if it is not authentically from there — Champagne and the knowledge of it can be fun.

​”There are a whole lot of questions, such as how many regions produce Champagne, that people don’t know the answer to,” said Rod Kukurudz, co-president of French Touch Events and the emcee for the evening. “We are celebrating these thousands of Champagne growers who all have family stories, personal stories and human-side growing who produce Champagne with passion, with love, with know-how and skill.”

​That night patrons could taste more than 45 cuveés (a French term for type or blend specifically used to describe Champagne), along with tasting the things that pair with Champagne — from the obvious such as caviar and foie gras, to the not-so-obvious such as pecan pie and brie cheese with jam.

​There were way too many kinds of Champagne to list, but they were all there, in their exalted stature, to be tasted, mulled over, discussed and ultimately, quaffed to a level of giddiness that comes with the territory.

​”We want the American audience, public, consumers, Champagne lovers, to know, to understand and to discover the thousands of Champagnes that there are,” Kukurudz said. “But Champagne is a celebration and a party.”

​To underscore the party angle, Darryl Grudig, a member of the U.S. chapter of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or, a brotherhood (which women can also join) of people who open Champagne with threatening-looking sabers, gave instructions on how to pop the cork with a sword.

​To do so, one must use a sword with considerable weight (or according to Grudig, a heavy chef’s knife can do) and run it up the seam of a Champagne bottle, catching the glass ring below the cork and snapping it off in one smooth movement.

​Originally, it was started by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s officers, who would celebrate their numerous victories by sabering off the corks of Champagne.

​”I am so happy, and so proud to be here this evening celebrating Champagne,” said Tétyana Poleva of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne. “Because I represent 5,000 Champagne growers. There are 5,000 different brands of Champagne, and I say come to visit us, come and discover our Champagne! It is the drink of the kings, and the king of the drinks! We use it to say ‘Happy New Year’ and for the French ‘Merry Christmas.’”

​A few chosen members of the audience got a chance to saber off the Champagne corks, to which Grudig advised, “Point it away from anything precious or breakable, and leave plenty of space for the cork to fly.” Seeming that it comes off with a glass ring, caution seems advisable.

​So on Dec. 31, when the clock strikes midnight ushering in a brand new year, if the sparkling wine you are about to pop the cork on is not from France, know you are not toasting with authentic Champagne.

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