As winter storm Jonas first began to appear legit even to those of us who have grown highly skeptical of snowmageddon-type predictions, sales of so-called essenstial items — like milk, water, bread, toilet paper, flashlights, batteries, salt and shovels — soared. Being a highly civilized, even if often irrational people, sales of wine, beer and hooch similarly ascended.
As one local liquor store manager told Sky News: “Business is three times what it normally is” and “customers are buying whole cases of wine, multiple six-packs of beer, stocking up to spend days cooped up inside.” Thankfully, some of us are never short of such previsions.
The storm hit on a Friday afternoon, and the looming threat (at least where I live) was that Shabbat had the potential to be even more “electricity free” than normal and that our family time might be truly uninterrupted. So obviously a celebration was in order!
“That which can’t be helped,” as the old adage has it, “must be endured” — so why not enjoy it? I went straight for the bubbly.
I’ve written many times before that sparkling wine is too often reserved for special occasions, rather than enjoyed as simply an everyday, albeit effervescent, wine. Sure, Champagne — sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France made in the traditional secondary-fermentation-in-bottle method — tends to be expensive, further lessening the likelihood of its being treated like an everyday wine.
Likewise, millions of marketing dollars have been spent creating an aura of special occasion about it. But there are plenty of other less expensive types of bubbly too. Though an attack from snowzilla — or whatever the mawkish moniker for the potentially life-threatening storm was — seemed like a good occasion to bust out the more expensive stuff.
So for the Shabbat of Storm Jonas, I opened two bottles of Pommery Champagne and a bottle of En Fuego Cava. In this instance, “cracked” isn’t so figurative, as I decided to test out a fun, though entirely unnecessary, wine toy: the “Champagne Sabre by Karim Rashid for Menu.”
Sabrage, the name of the technique for opening champagne with a saber, is essentially a ceremonial thing. The technique supposedly began life in 18th century France with Napoleon Bonaparte’s cavalry officers — which sounds rather more practical and less dangerous to life, limb, light fixture and carpet than doing it at home today. So I did it outside in the snow (which obviously made chilling the bottles easy).
Essentially you smartly rap the blunt side of a saber against the lip of the champagne bottle right where it meets the vertical seam of the bottle and thereby cause the lip, cork and all, to fly cleanly off the bottle in one piece. Do it wrong and the bottle might shatter on you, or too much of the champagne will fly out with the top of the bottle.
Tip to those who wish to try it at home: Attach a string from your belt loop to the Champagne cork wire cage (which you first loosen, move above the lip, and then tighten again). That way you can easily retrieve the broken glass lip and cork. The nature of the pressure of the bubbly in the cold bottle makes it work traditionally, one allows a little bit of the wine to pour over the break onto the floor before pouring for guests, just to be sure any remaining tiny shards of glass are washed away. The break was remarkably clean.
Okay, so it is probably a remarkably stupid way of opening a champagne bottle in the modern era. But it is fun and cool nonetheless. The impending blizzard seemed to make it all good, harmless fun. The Pommery helped too. Especially the second, third and fourth glass. Maybe skip the sabrage, but enjoy the bubbly: Pommery, Brut Royal, Champagne, Kosher Edition, non-vintage ($40) — this lovely if somewhat fruity blend of one-third Chardonnay, one-third Pinot Noir and one-third Pinot Meunier is full bodied and offers large, vibrant bubbles, with full aromas of ripe peaches, cream and toasted white bread, with a flowery background. This is followed by flavors of the same along with some mid-palate raspberry notes and a touch of citrus in the lengthy finish.
Many other wines were opened (using the traditional corkscrew method). Likewise, various distilled spirits were tapped to keep things warm and cozy.