Tips on which bubbly to drink and how to open it

sue.kidd@thenewstribune.comDecember 30, 2013 

Stink Cheese-Meat owner Kris Blondin uses a large knife as she playfully attempts to open a Champagne bottle.

LUI KIT WONG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Naming a business with a cheeky single word should allude to a proprietor’s penchant for mirth, but when a store name nods to the famed “Tacoma aroma,” you know the owner has got to have a great sense of humor — or smell.

Meet Kris Blondin, a Tacoman and owner of Stink Cheese-Meat, a multipurpose St. Helens neighborhood business that specializes in gourmet meats, cheeses, and freshly made cafe eats. It is adjacent to Blondin’s sister business, a wine bar called Stink Tank.

If her name sounds familiar to restaurant watchers, that could be because Blondin was the oenophile behind Vin Grotto, a popular downtown Tacoma wine destination that closed in 2007.

For someone who swore she’d never own a food business again, it’s baffling how Blondin wound up doing exactly that when she opened Stink in 2011. In Blondin’s characteristic hilarious words: Working in the food business is like constantly scratching a scab. You know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t help yourself.

With New Year’s Eve quickly approaching, and because her specialty is advising locals on wine, we asked Blondin to offer advice on how to pull off a successful Champagne or sparkling wine toast. Her answers were given via email.

Q: Any idea how Champagne came to be associated with New Year’s Eve revelry? Is it because there’s always the exciting possibility of injury and explosion?

A: An English cider maker invented the sparkling method. The French don’t want you to know that.

There are a couple of answers to this question. Actual Champagne is associated with opulence — it’s expensive. Let us welcome the New Year with prosperity. There is also some pagan influence of offering the finest beverage to the gods.

And yes, there is something special about popping a cork and drinking something fizzy and delicious. It goes straight to your head. And the “pop and circumstance” is always a huge draw, and if someone gets hurt, well, they probably deserved it anyway.

Q: Our readers are highly sophisticated and all-knowing, but for wine newcomers, can you describe the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?

A: Well, it has to be from the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne. There are a few California producers that stick their middle finger up at France and don’t care, but they are asking for it some day.

Now to get technical: Méthode Champenoise is the process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. This is also known as méthode traditionnelle.

There is a less expensive, mass-production method for producing bulk quantities of sparkling wine. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle, that produce larger, coarser bubbles (cue the sparkling wine headache). The wine is filtered under pressure and bottled. Also known as the bulk process or tank method. Wines made this way cannot be labeled Méthode Champenoise.

Q: What’s the best method for popping a cork — without putting your eye out?

A: First — don’t point it at anyone!

Second, take off the foil and cage around the cork. Hold the bottle with one hand and the cork (using a towel) with the other. Twist the bottle and gently pull on the cork — slowly, always keeping your hand over the cork in case it pops unexpectedly.

If you want a show, shake it real well before you open it.

Q: Can you tell readers about sabrage, the art of opening a Champagne bottle using a sword?

A: The popping of Champagne corks originated from the time of Napoleon. Under Napoleon’s command, the Hussars, a type of Hungarian light cavalry, celebrated victories by swinging their swords, and in doing so, cleanly slicing off the Champagne corks. There is also a legend that states that the Hussars would ride at full gallop to one of the ladies holding up a bottle of Champagne and slice off the cork with one swipe of their swords.

Q: Have you ever tried to slice open a bottle of bubbly using a sword? If so, did you put your eye out? Or slice off your thumb?

A: I have never been drunk enough (that’s really not true) or stupid enough (that isn’t true either) to try, although I have seen it done.

I hosted a New Year’s wine dinner a few years back at Vin Grotto, and one of my guests desperately wanted to try to open a bottle with one of my kitchen knives. So we all went out to the alley behind the restaurant, completely sober, of course, and he did it. I had 911 on speed dial.

Q: In all seriousness, now that readers know how to safely open a bottle, can you give readers a guide to what they should drink on New Year’s Eve?

A: The beauty of sparkling wine is there are so many types. There is something for everyone. Sweet, dry, red, pink, you name it. Visit your trusted wine specialist for a recommendation. Give them a price range for what you want to spend and if you prefer sweet or dry wines.

One really important note: Be sure to chill your sparkling wine or Champagne properly (45 to 48 degrees F). If you open a warm bottle of fizzy wine, it will be Geyserville.

Q: What’s the best bottle for an experienced Champagne drinker in search of something unusual?

A: For the price, I recommend a Cremant (creamy). That’s what I prefer to drink anyway. It’s a sparkling wine from France that is very delicious and much more affordable than Champagne.

Q: What’s your favorite Champagne to drink?

A: For the price — Moutard ($32). If price isn’t an option — Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque ($165).

Q: Same question, but for domestic sparkling wine.

A: For the price, I drink Gruet NV Brut ($16) from New Mexico. You didn’t think they make wine, let alone sparkling wine, in New Mexico? Well, they do, and it’s delicious.

Q: For those who say they don’t like Champagne, is there any style they should consider?

A: I for one like to avoid the really “yeasty” Champagnes. Newcomers might want to avoid it also, but many people really do enjoy that flavor profile. I prefer a very clean-tasting Champagne.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270 sue.kidd@thenewstribune.com

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