This is a post about drinking Champagne on your birthday. I think you should do it.
Before this year, it never really occurred to me to drink Champagne on my birthday. My focus would be on food: where would I eat for lunch? Where would I eat for dinner? Because it was my birthday, could I justify another meal–or at least a disgustingly decadent dessert–in between said lunch and dinner? As far as what I drank, sometimes I’d treat myself to a glass of wine with my lunch; a special occasion indulgence because normally, if I drink during the day, I’m too zonked out to get work done. But that glass of wine was always a modest glass of wine–a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc–never a glass of Champagne.
This year, on my birthday (which was Saturday; I forgive you for forgetting to call me), we were in New York and Craig took me to lunch at The John Dory. (You’ll read a whole post about that later this week.) Because we’d just had coffee and because we’d been out late the night before, Craig couldn’t fathom the idea of drinking a glass of wine with his lunch. But because it was my birthday, I decided to order something sparkling. I studied the wine list and saw a glass of Cava for $10 and a glass of Champagne for $16. I chose the Cava.
The Cava was crisp and light and alive with bubbles. It was a great foil to all of the rich, vividly flavorful food that came out of the kitchen that day. But it wasn’t Champagne.
I say that not because I’m the kind of person that would ever really notice the difference between a glass of Cava and a glass of Champagne but because, psychologically, I was aware that I chose the cheaper option. That’s what most of us do when we’re going through our lives and we do it for good reason. If you indulge in every indulgence available to you, you’ll quickly realize that those indulgences are no longer indulgences–they become expensive habits.
Yet Champagne was on my mind for a strange reason. Legendary California chef Jeremiah Tower recently joined Twitter (@JeremiahTower) and, curious about him, I started reading a sample of his memoir California Dish on Amazon. While staying at a motel for a food festival, Tower says: “My staff knew I could put up with just about anything provided I could get a chicken club sandwich and champagne twenty-four hours a day.” I was amused by that and also amused by the quote he shares from Madame Lilly Bollinger who, when asked “why Champagne?” answers: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.”
He also quotes The Pink Panther: “Champagne is a minimum of alcohol and a maximum of companionship. It takes care of all extremes.”
All of this stayed with me and later in the day, when we met friends for drinks at Commerce, I decided to go for it. I ordered myself a $16 glass of Champagne.
If you’ve had bad Champagne, you haven’t had Champagne. You know Champagne is Champagne if it says it on the bottle–legally, it can only say it if it’s from the Champagne region of France.
Whereas the cheap stuff tastes slightly astringent and unpleasantly bitter, the good stuff tastes lively and robust. It’s not a sweet drink, but there’s an undercurrent of sweetness that’s offset by the fizziness of the bubbles. When Champagne is poured from the bottle into a Champagne flute (and that’s really the only way to drink it), there’s a frenzy of activity in the glass; it puts on a show for you while you drink it which is probably why it’s seen as a celebratory drink.
On any other day of the year, I’d consider it too indulgent to order myself a glass of Champagne (unless celebrating something significant). But on your birthday, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. You’re acknowledging that you are very much worth an extra $6; and if you really like yourself, you could go as far as spending an extra $60 or $600 (depending on where you are). But the point is that, in terms of food/drink rituals, Champagne on your birthday is a smart one.
I plan to stick with it.