Over brunch one Sunday years ago, a friend raised her glass and said, “Thanks for introducing me to champagne.” I responded, “You’d never had it before?” And she said, “Well, at weddings. Not, like, every day.” Regrettably, I don’t drink champagne everyday. It’s more a once-a-week thing. Though I can be cheap in other areas of my life—I never buy water, and I peel uncancelled stamps off envelopes—I splurge on champagne. It comforts me to know that when I am on my deathbed, I can say to myself, “I drank a lot of really good champagne.” So last summer I made a pilgrimage to the region of Champagne. It’s just an hour and a half by car to the east of Paris, and you know you’ve arrived when you see a gigantic bottle pouring liquid into a glass on top of a hill…overlooking a cemetery. Its proximity to Germany gives Champagne’s architecture a Hansel-and-Gretel look, and you see crunchy Teutonic names on the many churchyard memorials to fallen soldiers. Just don’t tell anyone who lives here how German it feels, or they’ll go off on you as one woman did to me: “Four years of occupation was enough!” My boyfriend and I found Chateau D’Etoges online, and were thoroughly charmed by the castle’s moat, expansive but simple gardens, and discrete updates, such as a large bathroom with a tub. We ate at L’Orangerie, the chateau’s fancy restaurant, and went all out on a 200-euro bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee. It was like drinking diamonds. Surprisingly, we were tipsy after a single glass. I was so involved with the flavors and experience of the wine that I didn’t have much of an appetite for my pork loin dinner. Failing to convince my boyfriend to peel the aluminum casing off the bottle’s neck—to wrap the leftovers in—I instead used my dinner napkin, sneaking it all into my purse. The champagne gave the dinner an epic quality. It lasted for hours—or seemed to, though it was a mere (albeit fabulous) three courses. The champagne amounted to more than a night at the chateau, and it was worth every penny. We took cellar tours in Epernay (Moet) and Rheims (Taittinger) and found small owner-operated vineyards for afternoon tastings (Doyard-Mahé was a revelation; besides being delicious bubbly, it is also exclusive—you have to drive to the place to by a bottle, since it is not sold in Paris or anywhere abroad.)
After the trip, and back in our Montmartre apartment, we went to Le Bon Marche to buy provisions for our last night of our three-week holiday in France. Spotting a bottle of the same Krug Grand Cuvee, I snapped it up. That evening, we drank it a different way than we had at the chateau in Champagne. We opened a bag of chips, invited down a neighbor, and quaffed it without even mentioning to him what it was. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.