Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: In the Court of Public Opinion, Champagne is Fantastic

With sincere apologies to the late Dr. Seuss …

               I do not understand the French,

              When sitting idly on a bench,

              Or fighting in a muddy trench,

              Or berating a writer for being a mench.

They are a people long known for their skills with food and drink. They often are observed, when anything French isn't praised highly enough for them, to fly into fits of pique. Pique, a French word by way of Latin meaning anger, annoyance, conniption, snit. All aptly descriptive.

Take Champagne, for example. The lovely bubblies made in that region of northern France have, by most laws even beyond La Belle France, been ascertained as the only true Champagne. Made anywhere else and they are mere pretenders to the throne.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), the influential German-born movie star, wrote that she loved Champagne because "it gives the impression that it is Sunday and that the best days will soon be upon us."

Today's wine world largely goes along with the legal aspects as well as that attitude toward Champagne, but it is not a recent conceit. Throughout history the world has known of the French reverence for the wine. Even an Austrian like Johann Strauss the Younger kept it as a major part of his opera "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat") which he adapated from the French vaudeville production "Le Reveillon" in 1874. In the finale, all sing in praise of champagne, the king of all the wines.

The French Enlightenment philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, writing in 1736, noted "the sparkling froth of these fresh wines is the sparkling image of us, the French."

The French master of fiction Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) said he always put a glass of Champagne beside his inkwell to give his pen a sparkling inspiration.

What, then, are we to make of the recent decision by a civil court in Paris that a set of articles in the newspaper Le Parisien was liable to induce people to drink Champagne and thus it would have to make a penalty payment to France's National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction (French acronym: ANPAA).

Such a ruling in a nation whose motto is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" seems to suggest wine articles in the media may be regulated in the same was as alcohol advertising.

The Evin Law of 1991 strictly controls such advertising in France. Messages are restricted to the quality of the product, and must carry health warnings.

The ANPAA had filed suit against the newspaper over a series of articles using the overall heading "The triumph of Champagne," published 24 months ago.

Its contention was that the articles were too much in praise of Champagne and, therefore, the same as an ad and should be controlled the same way. The court inexplicably agreed.

Even more inexplicably, the ANPAA won the same sort of decision in the same court in December when it attacked Heineken for comments made about its own products — on its own Web site.

So, here we are a short time before that hideously commercialized, yet still nice to have, holiday known as St. Valentine's Day. A day when Champagne enters into the consciousness of many who ignore it the rest of the year.

I was never impressed by the recent wave of anti-French sentiment that resulted in such foolishness as "Freedom fries," but I do advocate — as a longtime journalist and defender of free speech in all situations — saying that Champagne is recherche, French for excellent, delicious, discriminating, pleasing, splendid, superb. All aptly descriptive.


              (William M. Dowd covers the beverage world at

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