Uncorked: Inauguration toast put French winemakers on defense
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Jan 22, 2013 | 2205 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, released an advanced menu for the inaugural luncheon to follow President Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony, a mini-international crisis ensued.

The three-course menu included a first course of steamed lobster and New England chowder served with Tierce 2010 Dry Riesling, a collaboration of three winemakers from New York’s Finger Lakes region. The second course was a hickory-grilled bison with a wild huckleberry reduction and red potato horseradish cake paired with Bedell Cellars 2009 Merlot from the North Fork of Long Island.

The third course of good old American apple pie — accompanied by sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey maple caramel sauce — was paired with, as listed on the advanced menu, “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvee Champagne, California.”

French wine lobbyists became très upset over the use of the words “Champagne” and “California” on the menu. It should be pointed out that this is not the wording on the actual bottle. The bottle reads “Korbel Natural Russian River Valley Champagne.”

Sam Heitner, director of Champagne Bureau USA, let his displeasure over the menu wording be known, and the person or persons in charge of such things agreed to reprint the menus with the correct wording that complies with a 2006 trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

The goal of Champagne Bureau USA is to educate U.S. consumers on the origins of true Champagne, a name exclusively reserved for wines from Champagne, France. The trade agreement of 2006 effectively prohibits any new producers of American sparkling wine from calling their wines Champagne. The word Champagne still appears on many American labels with impunity because the agreement contained a grandfather clause allowing American producers, including Korbel established in the 1880s, to continue using the word Champagne as long as the wine’s place of origin clearly preceded the word Champagne.

So if the person who wrote the first menu for the luncheon had written the name of the wine as it appears on the label, “Russian River Valley Champagne,” or better yet “Russian River Valley California Champagne,” the menu would likely have been in full compliance with the 2006 trade agreement — if the agreement does, in fact, cover menus.

It’s no secret Americans are geographically challenged. Better wording would certainly have helped members of Congress understand that the Russian River Valley is not a region of France. If the word California had been placed before or to the left of the word Champagne, rather than to the right, Franco-American relations might have been preserved.

In defense of the Champenoise, perhaps no wine region has been subjected to more name pirating. As has been stated in this column repeatedly, true Champagne comes only from the recognized region of France, also called Champagne, located about 100 miles northeast of Paris.

Sparkling wines are made in all major wine-producing areas of the world, including other regions of France. Often these wines are made with the same grape varietals and labor-intensive methods used in making true Champagne, but they are not Champagne.

In France if someone outside of the Champagne region were presumptuous enough to put Champagne on their wine labels, they would be guillotined. In America the punishment is not quite as harsh.

Controversy could have been avoided completely with a better wine pairing for the apple pie. A sweet Moscato like Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscato d’ Ora would have been perfect and required only a small change in glassware for toasting.

If interested in replicating the inaugural luncheon menu, recipes can be found on the website of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Regrettably the New York wines paired with the first two courses are not distributed in our area, but Korbel sparkling wines are a staple of most grocery wine sections.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.
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