by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
October 1, 2005
Champagne for Dummies
New York, USA
Wine writer, wine educator, and wine consultant, Ed McCarthy is the author of Champagne for Dummies and co-author with his wife, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, M.W., of six other books in the Dummies series (John Wiley & Son). He is a regular contributor to Wine Enthusiast and Decanter magazines. A generous and knowledgeable mentor to me, I enjoy nothing more than chatting with Ed about our favorite topic: Champagne. He is a true American authority on the subject.
Everyone knows you as the author of Champagne for Dummies and as being a real expert in the field, but I’m sure few know what the catalyst was that pulled you away from teaching high-school English and got you started specializing in champagne.
It was Krug. I was first introduced to it by the owner-retailer of Quality House, Bernie Fradin. It was a revelation to me. I realized that there was more to champagne than what I had previously tasted. Up until then I never knew champagne could have such depth, body, and complexity to it. After tasting Krug, I realized that it was actually a great wine like any other great wine, but it just happened to be sparkling. I was still teaching English at the time, and had started collecting wine, but from that point on I decided to focus on champagne. This was the key moment for me.
What you really ended up doing was combining both your love of English and champagne by writing about it.
Well, from a practical point of view, once I got into champagne I realized that there were very few books in the English language on the subject. There was a huge gap since even the few English publications out there were written by British wine writers. I can think of Serena Sutcliffe and Tom Stevenson. So, when the opportunity was presented to publish a reference book on the subject matter, well I didn’t hesitate. In 1999 Champagne for Dummies was published. Since then, I’ve authored quite a few titles. My newest book, Wine Style, co-written with Mary, was just released this month.
For someone who tastes champagne on a regular basis, who has a very well-trained palate, and who has enjoyed a lot of older champagnes, what have been some of the older wines that you still think of?
I can think of three in particular:
1928 Krug — Rémi Krug once gave me a bottle of this wine. This was the greatest champagne I have ever had. I tasted it blind with a group of experienced tasters, and no one guessed it was older than a 1955! Deep golden and still effervescent, it had complex flavors of caramel, biscuit, and honey, with a very lengthy finish that lasted several minutes on the palate.
1985 Louis Roederer Cristal — I recently shared my last bottle with my wife, Mary. It was one of the greatest Cristals I’ve ever tasted. In fact, one of the greatest champagnes I’ve had in my memory. The tasting experience has convinced me that Cristal in a good vintage requires about 20 years of aging to appreciate fully. Perfectly balanced, with good, lively acidity, perfect effervescence, complex flavors, long on the palate, and completely delicious. Totally awesome!
1921 Pol Roger — I’ve indulged in this wine twice. There are few houses that still have champagne that old, but maison Pol Roger has exemplary storage and they are able to keep these legendary wines. Christian Pol-Roger even had wines dating from 1900! This 1921 had a medium gold color and was incredibly youthful. It might have been mistaken for a 25 to 30 year-old champagne. It showed no signs of ageing, so should live for another 20 years or more.
What is your general feeling about ageing champagne?
Chardonnay from the Champagne region ages better than the Pinot Noirs of the area, so the longest-lived champagnes are the 100% Chardonnay blanc de blancs style. This is of course if the wine is stored in perfect storage condition. Rosés don’t generally age very well; so maximum would be ten to fifteen years.
As someone who is so closely tied to the world of Champagne, where do you see it heading?
It is the only French wine that is selling well. The only one that has weathered all the storms, even when French wines were being boycotted recently. There will always
be a place for champagne because, frankly, no sparkling
wine — made in any other of the wine regions around
the world — comes close to it. Despite the high price tag it is unique and will always hold its place.