Sparkle and the City

Champagne Varnier Fannière at Corkbuzz, Chelsea Market
Champagne Varnier Fannière at Corkbuzz, Chelsea Market

All photos by Christine Campbell. 

On Sunday, August 8th, I had the good fortune to travel to New York City for two days before heading north into the Finger Lakes region for The Wine Bloggers Conference.

I have recently completed my French Wine Scholar master class on champagne and was eager to see what New York and Manhattan had to offer. On my hit list, I wanted to check out at least one Champagne bar and, generally, have a sensory overload, fantastic time.

After arriving on the red-eye at 6:30 AM New York Time (3:30 AM Pacific - yikes!), my friend and I hit the ground running with a 12:00 noon reservation at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. The building and architecture are impressive given that it was originally built in 1870 to house sheep that roamed on the meadows. Live sheep are not welcomed guests anymore and the focus is on fresh, rustic food and a fantastic wine list.

Flute Champagne Bar
Flute Champagne Bar

I selected the soft scrambled eggs with caramelized onions and truffle butter for my main and I chose a glass of Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut DOCG NV Franciacorta to accompany. A blend of handpicked Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco grapes, this glass of bubbly was delightful. Quickly rising up the sparkling category as the darling to watch – more refined than Prosecco and not as expensive as Champagne, Franciacorta is a force to be reckoned with.

After brunch, it was time for a walk on the High Line. We lasted about 20 minutes before it was time to get another drink. This time, we went inside Chelsea Market and found Corkbuzz Wine Bar and another great wine list.

I chose a bottle of Champagne Varnier Fannière Grand Cru Extra Brut that happened to be 50% off as a Sunday special. What a stroke of good luck – my two friends and I enjoyed the crisp, racing acidity and steely notes of this Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Corkbuzz also features half off bottles of Champagne every night after 10 PM. The staff is exceedingly knowledgeable and enjoyed discussing champagne as well as being able to offer it at a great price.

Ederlezi Costadilà Bianco 2012  at 10 Bells
Ederlezi Costadilà Bianco 2012 at 10 Bells

It was time for a well-deserved nap and a chance to freshen up. Our next stop was at Flute Bar and Lounge in Gramercy. They had advertised an All You Can Drink for $25 Champagne deal, so we needed to check it out. Turns out, it was too good to be true and the ‘Champagne’ was a California low-end sparkling wine and the other option was Bellinis… neither appealed to us so we chose a glass of Jacquesson Champagne and enjoyed the beautiful interior. Currently, Flute Bar is promoting Jazz on Wednesday evenings, a fun fit with sparkling wine.

The final spot of the evening was 10 Bells Natural Wines and Tapas Bar in the Lower East Side. Wine Director Severine Perru was incredible and welcoming. She suggested the Ederlezi Costadilà Bianco 2012 Italy - a skin fermented, natural Prosecco that made our group take notice of its unique and delicious flavor. This is NOT your average Prosecco! We enjoyed it so much we purchased a bottle from Chambers Street Wines.

Enguerrand Baijot at Chefs Club
Enguerrand Baijot at Chefs Club

The following evening, I had the distinct pleasure to meet up with Enguerrand Baijot, Director of Champagne Lanson North America, at the fabulous Chefs Club to ask him a few questions about the sparkling category and what the current trends are. “Cocktails are the current competition for Champagne,” stated Baijot, “Over the past few years, the cocktail culture has come onto the scene and has created a great following. I believe that Champagne will last forever. It is how to get things started and Champagne pairs beautifully with food. There is a Champagne for every meal and every culinary option available.”

I thought about this as I sat at the bar, sipping Lanson Black label beside Baijot. Half of the people at the bar were, indeed, drinking beautifully crafted cocktails while the other half sipped on wine or something sparkling.  I asked Baijot how he would describe the Lanson brand, “Lanson is a true, unique expression of Champagne. There is nothing else like it. We pride ourselves on consistency and it is consistency that is first and foremost in what we do and produce everyday. There has been a shift in people's palates towards crisp, clear and clean wines and Lanson embodies this profile.”

Alcohol Professors (L-R) Amy Miller and Christine Campbell
Alcohol Professors (L-R) Amy Miller and Christine Campbell

Lanson debuted their ‘White Label’, an aperitif style Champagne, with this market intelligence in mind. It is full of fresh, clean fruit flavors and aromas.

So, what about the sparkling category in general, I wondered? How was the popularity of Franciacorta, Prosecco and Cava helping or hindering Champagne sales? Baijot smiled and said, “Everyone who selects a glass or bottle of sparkling wine helps to grow and promote the category. Champagne is no longer just a choice for weddings, anniversaries or celebrations. With the other sparkling options in the marketplace, consumers have more freedom to become specialists in the sparkling category and Champagne definitely maintains and will maintain its popularity and status."

I couldn’t agree more. As we finished up, Baijot had one last comment to make on New York and Champagne, “The pulse of New York City and Champagne go together – it is an ideal relationship. New York is always happening and fascinating.   Exciting concepts and restaurants open up all the time and the nightlife is unlike any other city in the world. Just like New York, Champagne continues to wow and excite the senses and keeps people coming back for more.”

Santé!