“Come quickly — I am drinking the stars,” said monk-turned-champagne-inventor-turned-Mahiki-sparkler-holder Dom Perignon back in 1693. This pretty much set the tone from the off. Firstly — stars? Have you been near the sun lately? Hardly a refreshing thing to chuck around at your niece’s christening, don’t you think? And what’s all this “come quickly” business? You sent the invitation by carrier pigeon two days ago at what I can only assume was four in the morning. How do I know the party’s still going? Will there be anything left to drink? What’s the dress code? Do I need to bring a bottle? (We’ve only got mead, though, as someone’s been hogging all the grapes.) And will it be a late one, because actually some of us have jobs, you know, Dom — we can’t all slouch around in a bowl-cut and a big hood, swinging incense and inventing luxury goods and getting giggly in the evening to some Gregorian chant.
Enough. You see how silly people get as soon as the sparkling wine appears? They lose the plot. They become prone to attacks of vanity and delusion and organised fun. They become inflated on bubbles and drunk on ego and giddy with the occasion. In short: they become who they really are. And what is that, precisely? Good question. Here’s what your sparkling wine says about you. I’m sorry if I lost my temper.
Here is an actual front page headline from The Telegraph in April 2016: “Prosecco popularity ‘could see supplies run out’”. Simpler times for the broadsheet press, 2016. Less dead great aunts, on the whole. Much less Prince Andrew. An almost complete absence of Matt Hancock’s teeth. But I wouldn’t go back to it. The high point of prosecco’s manic, look-at-us-aren’t-we-having-fun popularity was a low point for the chattering classes, in my book.
Prosecco is, in almost all cases, lifeless and insipid and vaguely sickly. Which stands to reason — in a sort of “you are what you eat” way — that the people who drink it tend to be equally tasteless. It is the lifeblood of bottomless brunches, tinny-speakered picnics on Clapham Common, hen dos at The Prince, and work drinks with people who really don’t want to go home to their husbands. Please don’t come to my barbecue, we’re having trouble with the neighbours as it is and last time you forgot your dog.
In this kinder, softer, more modest age, expensive champagne has begun to look like a museum relic from some half-remembered pagan era. “Used as a symbol of expense and extravagance during rituals of celebration and small talk, often accompanied by inconvenient glassware and fish canapés,” the plaque reads, and we shake our heads in knowing, amused disbelief, as if remembering a particularly flamboyant adolescent haircut. All feels a bit Prince Harry at Boujis, these days. A bit Jaguar XK8 somewhere near Aylesbury. A bit Millennium Dome. A bit 30th wedding anniversary in the Guildford. A bit final round on The Apprentice. A bit American retiree on Lake Como. A bit Sexy Fish. A bit Concord. A bit Henley. A bit, well, silly, really. Still, if you’re opening a bottle…
Middle-aged middle manager, mid-February in the midlands.
Pet-nat is a bit like orange wine, or micro-dosing LSD, or threesomes, or Hamilton. You read an intriguing little piece on it in the New Yorker a couple of years ago, you could hold a passable conversation about it at a dinner party, and you’re sure it’s perfectly enjoyable — but you’ve never actually tried it yourself. Cloudier, more raw, slightly less fizzy than other sparklers, pet-nat wine (which stands for Pétillant Naturel, and basically uses a more rustic and ancient method than champagne, say) is more of a lifestyle choice than a sparkling wine. Turning up with a bottle to an engagement drinks is a bit like turning up with a new tattoo or a pair of high tops. “How interesting, James,” they’ll say with a kind smile, before wondering to themselves whether everything’s quite alright at home.
The wonderful thing about cremant is that everyone thinks that they discovered cremant. And by everyone, I mean people who have just moved to North London with their new dog because their boyfriend isn’t quite ready for kids and listen to the High Low but are “much more Dolly than Pandora” and actually do things on Sundays.
“It’s so much better value than champagne, and actually I prefer the taste,” they say, before going on to mention how they’re saving for a wedding that you’re not invited to. Cremant, in many ways, is the best of all worlds — the price tag of Prosecco, the sophistication of champagne, the understatement of cava. It is thus millennial smugness personified; yuppie juice for the Fleabag generation. I’ll take six.
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