Illegal immigration may be a hot issue in this year's US elections, but European Union authorities took action recently against an illegal entry into their territory - American "Champagne."
Customs authorities in Anvers, Belgium, acted swiftly when they discovered a shipment of more than 3,200 bottles of André sparkling wine that was labeled "California Champagne" from "André Champagne Cellars." That's a no-no in the EU, where the name Champagne is legally protected and can be used only for sparkling wine from the Champagne region in northern France. The wine was destroyed after the European owner relinquished rights to the product rather than face any further legal action.
The US agreed two years ago that its sparkling wines should be called "sparkling wines," but the law grandfathered an exception for some older brands, such as André, that are still allowed to use the word Champagne on their labels. Never mind that these are the wines that bear the least resemblance to the French ideal.
The wine's destruction was ballyhooed today by the Office of Champagne USA, established to promote the real deal while protecting its trademark name. Perhaps someone at Gallo, the company that owns and produces André, forgot about the Europeans' sensitivity and shipped some wine with the wrong labels. But the incident highlights a major American hypocrisy. We insist on genuine products and protection of intellectual copyrights. Yet we also want to be able to call our sparkling wine "Champagne" when it isn't, the French be damned.
I'm on record as touting the quality of America's top sparkling wines. I believe they should be celebrated not as Champagne knock-offs but as excellent bubblies that express the terroir and character of the land where they're grown and the people who make them. It's notable that the top U.S. brands do not use the word Champagne on their label. Good for them!
The brands that do continue to usurp the Champagne name, such as André, continue to sell because they are inexpensive and because people like them. I'd wager they don't sell because of the word Champagne on their labels. But the cynical companies continue to abuse the Champagne name because they believe their customers are susceptible idiots and because they don't have enough confidence in their own products to sell them on the merits.
Champagne (or a good US sparkling wine) for real friends, real pain for sham friends!
Wine writers love to use their first column of the year telling the future what to do – what wines will be hot, which ones not, what cool people will be drinking, and what they’ll be thinking about what they’re drinking. Usually, the writers predict that the wines they’ve written about last year will suddenly be all the rage, thereby proving their self worth.
Well, here’s my prediction: I predict you’re fed up with that nonsense.
And I’ll wager that after the holidays you just may be tired of opening those special occasion bottles to impress friends and family and are eager to return to simple wines with simple foods. After looking at your credit card bills, you may even have resolved to loosen the connection between your thirst and your wallet. (True wine lovers never resolve to cut back their consumption of wine, just how much they spend on it.)
So for January, I’ll focus each week on bargain wines that pack surprising quality for the price. These wines will help you re-establish some equilibrium just in time to splurge for Valentine’s Day.
Let’s start with two nice reds from Castello Banfi. The Col di Sasso 2006 ($10), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, offers fruit and heft at a price rarely seen in a red from Tuscany. It’s great for burgers, pizza and hearty pasta dishes.
Banfi’s sister winery, Vigne Regali in Piemonte, offers L’Ardì 2006 Dolcetto d’Acqui ($12). This light, juicy red features flavors of cherry and raspberry, with a happy balance that allows you to appreciate the wine’s quality without genuflecting.
Washingtonian magazine's January issue contains its annual roundup of the Best 100 restuarants in the metropolitan DC area. Having joined the magazine as its freelance wine columnist last summer, I had the pleasure of participating in this in-depth survey of capital dining, along with the magazine's full-time restaurant critics, Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert and Cynthia Hacinli. I also contributed a column about positive trends in wine service at area restaurants.
There may not be a whole lot of surprises to this year's list (Michel Richard Citronelle remains #1 for the second year), but there is definitely some movement. Twenty new restaurants made the list, including several that just opened their doors in 2007. This was the year of the bistro in DC, with top chefs such as Michel Richard and Robert Weidmaier opening second restaurants themed as bistros or brasseries to give diners a chance to taste their creations without going totally luxe. Central Michel Richard debuts at #10 on the list, while Weidmaier's Brasserie Beck comes it at #36.
What's fun is to see who changes from one year to the next. Ristorante Tosca surged dramatically under its new chef, Massimo Fabbri, from #85 in 2007 to #20 this year, going from 2 stars to 3. (Four stars is the highest rating, given this year only to Citronelle, CityZen and Komi.) Oval Room ascended from #49 to #13, adding half a star to climb to 3 stars.
Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong were named Restaurateurs of the Year for their expanding empire that has made Old Town Alexandria a dining destination. The husband-and-wife team operate Restaurant Eve (#4, 3.5 stars), and their latest venture, The Majestic, debuts at #42 with 2.5 stars. They also own Eammon's A Dublin Chipper and the speakeasy PX.
One notable newcomer: Cynthia's in Severna Park, Md., which should be a mecca for foie gras lovers. And chocolate soufflé lovers ... It opened at #25, with 3 stars.
To read the entire list and the reviews, you'll need to get a copy of the January issue of Washingtonian, now on newstands. The magazine's Web site, Washingtonian.com, is counting down the top 25 restaurants and will post the entire list at the end of the month.