Thursday, December 5, 2013

Let Me Tickle Your Fancy

I’ve always been baffled when people say they don’t like or don’t drink Champagne,"I don’t really drink much Champagne” I know what each word means, but put together that way…just sounds like jibberish to me. How could a beverage that inspires such passion in me be so easily dismissed by so many people?! Sadly, I think I know why, "The Fancy".

“I’m going to be out with the (Insert Giant Champagne Conglomerate Here)  rep this week, can we come by and taste you on a couple things?” the email read, I’d had the wines before and never thought that much of them, didn’t hate them, matter of fact, they didn’t even inspire enough intrigue for me to hate them. “I’ve tasted them before and didn’t really care for them and I  don’t want to waste your time” was how I responded. Got another email saying “doesn’t hurt to try again” so I agreed to sit and taste with them, one sniff and I regretted it.

Now I’m pretty reserved when I’m tasting with a sales rep, even more so when they have a supplier with them. I don’t dig hurting people’s feelings and don’t feel the need to tell these people what I think is “wrong” with their wines, I know other buyers that do but that aint me, I taste, take notes and “it’s not my favorite” is the worst you will ever hear come out of my mouth, (unless pressed which has happened. They regretted it). When I got up from the table I said, “Not my favorite” but walking away I was kinda pissed that I caved and that we wasted each other’s time. I knew what was going to happen but I am always waiting for someone to change my mind. The tasting was an absolute bust and as the day progressed I found myself even more annoyed that wines like that have the marketing budget to get their bottles on lists all over town, which when tasted, leave consumers saying, “I don’t really like Champagne”…well, with overpriced, boring, tired, lifeless bubbles like that, it’s no wonder!

I fell in love with great Champagne 16 years ago, it was a bottle of 1989 Billecart-Salmon Nicolas Francois, it was more than I would have normally spent, $89.99 at the time,  but I was talked into it and I have never been the same, that being said I feel that the wines from that estate have been creeping beyond what the bottle delivers…but Nicolas Francois will always have a special place in my heart, who knows if Champagne would have ever stolen my heart, crept into my soul and yanked me deeper into this world of wine that I love so much. So yes, a special place in my heart but with the quality it has now, and a much higher price tag, no place on my racks.

Before that fateful night, that rich mouth coating wine prying my eyes and heart wide open, I'd had  plenty of bubbles but they were the mass market brands that grace every supermarket shelf…the ones that most people drink, and while I never turned down a glass of one of those, I rarely asked for a second one and almost never  thought about buying them. Then I was drinking the idea or feeling of Champagne, now I drink the flavor.

 While I put one after the other of those "Fancy" brands in my mouth, gave them a swish, felt the sizzle of raspy bubbles and tasted flavors that reminded me of stale butter cookies I kept asking myself, "What would inspire anyone to buy this wine a second time?” which of course had me taking a pass on bringing them in…I’m not in the business of selling one bottle, one at a time to one customer, 12 times, over. Shit that's what the grocery stores are for. I want you to love them like I do, crave them like I do, dream about them like I do and come back over and over again to fall in love all over again. If I sold anyone wines like the ones I was tasting that day, not only would I be unispired, (in fact if that were all there was I would flatly give up drinking Champagne, honestly. Rather spend that money drinking a nice Sancerre or white Burgundy) I would be contributing to that, "I don't really like Champagne" thing that bums me so.

I try not to spend too much time shit talking on the top Champagne houses, they do have some good wines, maybe a tad too pricey, but some solid wines to be sure but for the most part, their basic or non vintage bottles are really freaking BORING…that and they make so damn much of the crap that it often sits in warehouses, (of the distributor) for God knows how long, getting tanky and stale tasting…ewe. I can honestly say I have had more off bottles of Veuve Clicqout. Moet and Taittinger than any other Champagne I have ever had….really harsh when you think about the fact that I try those maybe twice a year…if that, stuck at a trade event, handed a glass at someone's house, or in a restaurant with a friend in the middle of a serious Champagne jones…that’s a pretty crappy average if you ask me. So I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, but I will say that I don’t trust them…and there are just so many better bottles to be had. So if you don’t like Champagne or don’t drink it often, maybe it’s just that you haven’t had some really good ones, and by good ones I mean wines made from special little plots of land, created by a person and not some recipe handed out by the marketing moguls….don’t go thinking Perrier Jouet flower bottle when I say good because it costs a lot. I’ve had it, it’s fine…not great, not that exciting, but fine. The thing is, for that kind of coin you can get two bottles of exceptional grower Champagne and discover what greatness truly is. 

Last night I had the very real privilege of hosting and pouring some outrageously cool, tiny production, somewhat geeky grower bubbles, even some from right here in Cali-for-ni-a. It was a last minute tasting that I sort of begged Randy to let me do. We like to plan our events way in advance, gives us time to promote them and fill the seats, that was why I had to do my little "Pop Up" event on a Wednesday, calender was full for the rest of the year. I was watching all these wicked cool wines come in, was stocking them on the racks and I found myself grinning like a fucking idiot and petting the damn things. I knew I had to get these wines in front of people. Not just talk about them but pour them, stand there and explain the salty, brininess in the Blanc de Blancs from Jacques Lassaigne. Let my pudgy arms flail as I groaned over the exotic spicing in the Laherte Freres Brut Rose. Lean over people's shoulders and purr, "How fucking sexy is that?" after pouring them a glass of Coessens Blanc de Noir. 

Had to be done, if for no other reason than to settle my soul. Wines like those, they haunt me. They make me think of them long after, sometimes months after, I have tasted them. I knew there were others, (thank Gawd for you people!) and I knew they would get it. As I watched the reservations come in fast and furious, for a geeky little sparkling wine, midweek event and there are still a bunch of seats available for Our Best Cabernet Sauvignons of 2013, on a Friday night? Well I was, am, so goddamn proud of that. We were among the very first stores to walk away from the easy sale of Grand Marques Champagnes, to kick Clicquot and Moet out and instead offer Agrapart, H. Billiot, Jose Dhondt, R.H. Coutier and now many, many others in their place. Never and easy road and we talked and talked and talked some more...but that blue in the face, well it worked. Here we are, the morning after an event that we didn't even plan, me glowing like a idiot and getting message after message from the people that were in attendance, gushing and thanking us. Thanking us....

So do this old bird a favor, before you utter phrases like, “I don’t really like Champagne” or just write the marvelous, frothy beverage off as something you toast with, get your hands on a couple of really serious grower Champagnes, really taste them,we're waiting for you. 
Maybe let me...tickle your fancy....



webb said...

Perhaps, too, your customers trust YOU enough to know that if you suddenly throw in a mid-week bubbly tasting ... there's a good reason.

I'm making a list and checking it twice to see if any of these jewels are avaible on the Right Coast. Thanks.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
What's astonishing, really, is the amazing growth the Grower Champagne market has shown over the past ten or fifteen years. And it's been people like you preaching the gospel about those amazing wines. You've certainly educated my worn-out old palate.

I'd LOVE to attend one of your Champagne tastings, My Love. Ask lots of stupid questions. "Do the bubbles make you fart? Is Champagne fart water?" "What kind of flutes are best? Skin flutes? Nose flutes? No flutes?" Yup, I'd be the wine class clown.

Now I want to drink all the new Champagnes you're hot for. Here's my credit card number:


Send me lots.

I love you so!

Romes said...

Oh do I wish I lived closer, but then of course I'd have to live in a refrigerator box for lack of money! I am going to dig deep and see if I can't afford some of these new beauties before Chrstmas... I do so love, crave and dream about grower champagne and all due to you!

Love you

Samantha Dugan said...

Copied from Facebook

Ed Hodson "Then I was drinking the idea or feeling of Champagne, now I drink the flavor." Exactly. These wines are beyond good, they're revolutionary, they're life-changing. I used to have a friend who wore a T-shirt with this (rather wordy) slogan on it: IF I HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY I RIDE A MOTORCYCLE, YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND. It's kind of like that with these hauntingly beautiful, inspiring champagnes. Once you've had one, you no longer see the world, or wine, the same way, and the only people who truly get it are the ones who've also been similarly transformed.

Samantha Dugan said...

I've been lucky to be afforded a tremendous amount of trust from our customers, one of the reasons I am so stubborn about not being lazy and stacking wines that will sell, on a no longer valid reputation, and let people walk off with those never to know, taste or understand the wines that can change your life..if you let them. I just won't and can't and I am so very proud that our store was at the head of the class on the grower Champagne movement, going even further than some other very notable others, by not paying the bills with marketed crap while the wine world slowly came on board. We fought, explained and at times, lost business when someone just had to had that orange label crap. We have always believed in these wines and it feels really fucking amazing to see the rest of the wine world coming on board. Rest of the world? Not likely, that's okay though, not enough of the special stuff made to go around!

Look for the Laherte Freres wines in your area. Fantastic and really fairly priced!

Ron My Love,
Class clown huh? Well I'm afraid that should you behave badly in one of my classes I will be forced to punish you...course that means you will drink Moet while the rest of us fill our throats with Billiot, Saves and Coessens. I think I will send you a little care-for-me package this year with some of my new bubbles...would love to hear your impressions. No where near as fun as sitting beside you while we taste them but, it's what I get. I love you!

We have to stop boozing, like in bars, when you are here and start drinking Champagne. New Year, new behaviors. You in? I love you too and man, do I have some treasure for you in the store right now.

Well I told you how your comments on Facebook wrecked me so I used the less gushy one here. You are a joy to have in my camp and finding wines you haven't had yet is the kind of thing that makes my job just that much more fun. Hugs to you and I simply cannot thank you enough for all of your years of support of my Champagne department, and me.