A new year calls for a new look at the ultimate holiday libation.
Weddings are toasted with it, celebrations kicked off with it. Even its name is synonymous with revelry, luxury, and the good life. Despite all the other sparkling wine options out there, Champagne remains in a realm of its own. And right now, it’s as important to the dining and party scene in Philadelphia and Atlantic City as it’s ever been.
Jose Garces, master of all things Spanish and Latin at the table, is opening Volver this winter, a Champagne and caviar-centric destination at the Kimmel Center (300 S. Broad St., 215-670-2300). It’s a departure from his other area restaurants, to be sure, but it’s still somehow perfect: A (literally) sparkling evocation of all that he’s given to the city.
“It’s basically two concepts in one: a lounge and a dining room,” says Garces. “We continue to strive to find the most celebrated Champagne houses, but most important, we look for unique producers who share the same love we have for our ingredients.” Bollinger La Grande Année rosé, Taittinger, and Bruno Paillard blanc de blancs are just some of the highlights on Volver’s curated list. Garces even takes the experience a step further by offering Champagne and caviar flights, so guests can make their way through multiple pairings.
Revelers ring in the new year with Champagne at Revel’s HQ Nightclub.
When we talk about Champagne, it’s important to make a few distinctions. First, the real stuff comes only from the Champagne region of France, a relatively quick train ride from Paris. It’s made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes (or a blend of some or all of them). And second, the big brands (such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot) are not the only ones that fizzy fans are drinking these days. In a shift from the Champagne landscape of the past, more and more restaurants and bars are also offering smaller-production bottlings, often made by the same people who grow the grapes—not typical for the bigger Champagne houses, which usually purchase grapes from farmers and make the bubbly themselves. These bottles are neither better nor worse—just different. And it’s that difference that affords guests a renewed sense of excitement.
Chef Daniel Stern of R2L (50 S. 16th St., 37th Floor, 215-564-5337) makes a point of offering diners a selection of these bubblies. “The food we produce is so personal to us,” he says, “it’s special to be able to pair it with Champagne that has that same personal connection to the producer.”
It’s an astute point, and it reflects the increasing importance that many of us are placing on artisanal products. It’s also crucial to note that he speaks of Champagne in terms of food. This is another shift in how we’ve been enjoying the great French bubbly lately: not just on its own, but alongside dinner as well.
R2L sets a romantic scene for a bottle of bubbly.
At R2L, a bottle of the superb Gaston Chiquet works wonders with Stern’s roasted chicken breast, oysters, and even the smoked salmon. At Borgata’s Izakaya (One Borgata Way, Atlantic City, 609-317-1000), a great Champagne would pair perfectly with chef Michael Schulson’s lobster, trumpet mushrooms, or octopus with miso and tomato jam. Many of Borgata’s fine-dining restaurants pour Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut by the glass, an ideal companion to seafood.
“This is a boutique winery with family ties dating back 600 years in the region,” says Borgata wine director Anjoleena Griffin-Holst. “Charles Philipponnat was destined to make great Champagne: His father, René, was chef de caves at Moët from 1949 to the late ’70s and was responsible for the legendary 1961 Dom Pérignon.”
Of course, Champagne is just as easily enjoyed away from the dinner table, in the direction of the dance floor. HQ Nightclub at Revel (500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, 609-345-2211) boasts a serious Champagne selection for, well, revelers, including classics such as Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial. It also offers more-costly bottles, like Cristal and Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades. Says Matt Minichino, director of venue operations, “Currently at HQ Nightclub, our guests really enjoy the presentation of the Dom Pérignon Luminous bottles,” which feature green labels that light up for a bit of flash.
No matter how you’re spending the evening, in other words, you should be drinking more Champagne. It’s a goal we all should aspire to.