What girl doesn’t love champagne? I think we can all agree that a glass of bubbly is both sexy and delicious. I had a chat with Hervé Rousseau, the owner of Flûte, a lovely champagne bar in Paris (with two locations in New York), where I got some insider info on champagne. Hervé told me his favorite Paris bars, his favorite champagne and sparkling wine picks (surprise: one is from Long Island!), and most important, his secret to making the perfect champagne cocktail (see recipe below).
Liana Felt: What was your inspiration for opening a champagne bar?
Hervé Rousseau: The first one I opened was in New York, in 1997, and was inspired by two different things. I always wanted to start my own business but I felt I had to work for a larger company first. By 1997 I had worked for Danone and Rémy Cointreau, and so knew a lot about the wine business by that point. At the time I was a bachelor and would go on dates, but I was frustrated because there was no place, in my opinion, to have a nice date in NYC. It was either a crowded restaurant or bar. My stepmother was my other influence. She is Vietnamese, and one evening we had champagne with Vietnamese spring rolls, and I thought it was a match made in heaven. It really triggered me to want to do the champagne bar.
LF: What is your favorite champagne?
HR: It changes. I have many favorites. Sometimes in the summer I like drinking a lighter champagne, and in the winter maybe a rounder one. I especially like rosé champagne. My favorite champagne of all time is Charles Heidsieck Rosé 1985.
LF: Can you describe the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?
HR: Champagne is a sparkling wine, which is made in the region of Champagne, which is about an hour away from Paris. Every sparkling wine that is made in the region of Champagne can be officially called champagne, but every sparkling wine that’s made outside this region is simply a sparkling wine. All champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are champagne.
LF: Are there any nonchampagne sparkling wines that you like?
HR: I like good sparkling wines, first and foremost. It just happens that most of the ones I really like are champagnes, but I’m always open to try new ones. Recently I’ve even tried a sparkling wine from Long Island, and I was actually surprised how good it was. I’ve tried many sparkling wines from Long Island that I have not liked, but Sparkling Pointe was surprisingly good. Another nonchampagne I like is Segura Viudas Reserva, a cava.
LF: Do you have a preference for vintage or nonvintage champagne?
HR: Usually it’s true that some vintage champagnes are more complex and better, but there are many nonvintage champagnes that are very good. For nonvintage I like Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage and Moutardier Rosé. For vintage champagnes I recommend Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs 2002, Bollinger Grande Année 1990 and Charles Heidsieck.
LF: What advice would you give to people buying champagne?
HR: First, I would tell them that it’s always a good idea to buy champagne. The best advice I have is to follow your heart. If you’re at a restaurant or at a friend’s and you like something, make notes, because what really matters is your personal palate. You might love superdry champagne, while I prefer rosé champagne. It is more important to have your own opinion. Try to really taste it. Go to a champagne bar, where there will be 20 or 30 champagnes by the glass. Try a couple of them, and then you’ll know what you like.
LF: What’s your advice for people who want to make champagne cocktails?
HR: Rule No. 1 for any cocktail, champagne or nonchampagne, is that it should never be too sweet. Rule No. 2 is to shake the cocktail, because there is nothing more boring and dull than a cocktail you can see right through. You have to shake it. There needs to be a little foam on top. When your fingers start to get really cold, that’s when you stop. At Flûte we have some of the best champagne cocktails, because we’ve had 15 years practice of experimenting with champagne cocktails. Rule No. 3 is to always add the champagne last. If you float your cocktail with champagne, it will make your cocktail divine, and it will make people smile and laugh more.
LF: What’s your favorite drink on the Flûte menu?
HR: My favorite cocktail is called the Marquis: Grand Marnier, red wine—a stronger red wine—orange juice and of course champagne.
LF: What would be your perfect Paris day?
HR: No. 1 thing I always do is to start my day with a raisin roll. It’s called pain au raisins in French. I would preferably get it from Eric Kayser or another good baker. My advice would be to walk. Paris is a great city in which to walk and discover. When you walk, you have to raise your head, because there is so much to see above eye level in Paris. Give yourself flexibility, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much stuff to do. Paris is all about nonchalance.
LF: What is your favorite bar in Paris, after Flûte of course?
HR: In Saint-Germain, the bar at the Hôtel Lutetia.
1/4 ounce lime juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
1 ounce red wine (preferably full bodied)
Shake all ingredients very well with ice and pour into a martini glass, then top with champagne. Garnish with a slice of orange.
Editor’s note: If you’re French, sipping champagne isn’t just for special occasions. We adore this about the French! So naturally the GG2P Travel Club has several champagne experiences included, all of which offer our members special discounts, VIP treatment or gifts with purchase. The Arlaux champagne house gives our members 10 percent off all champagne purchases or a free half bottle when taking their champagne-focused cooking class. Flûte, profiled above, offers our members 10 percent off their entire bill at any of its three locations in Paris or NYC. And finally, O Chateau offers a lovely champagne-tasting cruise on the Seine.