Ayala Brut Majeur
Available at Garnet Wines and Liquors
Approximate retail cost: $35
French Champagne: Rites of Passage
A fine champagne is the most festive and exalted of all French wines. Just open a bottle and friends will inevitably ask: “What are we celebrating?”
The association of champagne with grand festivities dates back to the 18th century when it was used for anointing the French kings in Reims. Ever since then, champagne houses have underscored champagne’s connection to nobility, luxury and powerful rites of passage through their advertising and packaging. These clever promotional efforts coincided nicely with the rise of a new middle class that was eager for symbols of upward mobility. It was a perfect evolutionary match: the champagne producers needed more customers, and the people needed higher status.
The best champagne houses pride themselves on their individual house styles, which they preserve through meticulous blending of vintages and classic champagne grapes—blanc et noir. A recognizable house style is a producer’s fingerprint. The House of Krug is renown for its distinctive, steely and powerful quality, while Veuve Clicquot’s house style is rich, full bodied and fresh. Ayala’s Brut Majeur is closer to the Veuve Clicquot model, with their nearly identical blends of two-thirds black grapes, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and one-third chardonnay. The Ayala is further enriched with up to 80 percent reserve wine from the 2004 vintage, which imparts depth and weight to the house style.
A gorgeous, pale gold satin color, the Ayala has a creamy opulence. It begins with a racy green-apple-and-citrus zest that wakes up the palate. Hints of roasted hazelnuts, biscuits and coffee follow, giving a lees-driven complexity. Ayala’s two and a half years spent on the lees, or sur lie, does wonders for the wine. Contact with the lees, or dead yeast cells, is a vital component in shaping the flavors and mouth feel of premium champagnes. This is where Ayala’s creamy texture is achieved and its astringency softened into elegance.
Ayala champagne stands ready for all to enjoy, no longer just at the big events but at the everyday ones as well. And yet through the evolution of champagne, from its appearance at royal coronations to its place on our own dinner tables, its essential festive character remains. The popping of the cork harks back to the excitement of past celebrations; the golden glow radiates warmth; and the delicate dance of bubbles forever seeks ascendance. Onward and upward we go. Within a few sips, I’m humming the “Hallelujah” chorus and in the mood for merry! Has anyone seen my tiara?
Enjoy Ayala with all sorts of canapés, as well as oysters, salmon, chicken in cream sauce, roasted game birds and Chaource.
Editor’s note: Food and wine lovers heading to Paris might want to try one of the Girls’ Guide’s favorite cooking classes.