The opulent grandeur of Vienna’s Imperial Hotel is unrivaled. This renown and luxurious palace transports its guests back to a time when the Hapsburgs reigned supreme. Typical guests include royalty, presidents, the super rich, and of course, Bond … James Bond.
To commemorate “Skyfall,” the 23rd installment in the Bond series, what could be more appropriate than a Champagne tasting at a favorite haunt of our beloved hero, Agent 007. I happened to be be in Vienna on work assignment, and Bond has not been here since Timothy Dalton took up the mantel of the dashing secret agent in the 1987 film, “The Living Daylights.”
Keeping with the Bond tradition, I am flanked by two lovely ladies and fellow sommeliers, Annelle Koller and Clara Haas. Both are graduates of Luxembourg’s renown European School for Sommelier, and in charge of the Restaurant Imperial’s prestigious wine collection. I would also add that they both know Champagne, and over the past few years, Annelle and Clara have increased immensely, my appreciation for the “wine of kings and lovers.”
“I don’t know about Bond, but it is always a pleasure to drink with Alonzo … Gregory Alonzo, Annelle toyed playfully. “Since you recently wrote an article on Champagne with your Russian girlfriends, I thought we would focus on the wines 007 has imbibed throughout the series.”
“We have some wines and stories that we know you will find most enjoyable,” Clara’s eyes brightened into a smile.
“Garcon,” Annelle called for our server. “Caviar, Royal Beluga.”
“Ah, from the north Caspian,” I said with great delight.
“Gregory,” Clara paused for effect. “Annelle and I thought it only appropriate to share with the readers some basic Champagne etiquette.”
“Also to put to rest some Champagne myths,” Annelle was quick to add.
Never over chill Champagne; although it should never be served warm. It is worse for it to be icy or nearly-frozen. For this reason it is important to never under fill the ice bucket. All you will wind up doing is chilling only half the bottle. It is appropriate to add cold water to the ice cubes to ensure that the bottle is well submerged.
“This also makes it easier to put the bottle back into the bucket,” Clara added.
“Never try to chill two bottles in a bucket,” Annelle readied our Royal Beluga. “It is best to leave to leave the second bottle in the refrigerator in an insulated container.”
“As for the glasses,” Clara called for my attention. “Never chill them ahead of time, either by adding ice cubes or crushed ice. This only has a negative effect on the release of the bubbles and the bouquet.”
“Icing the glasses,” Annelle shook her head in disbelief, “We may be celebrating, Bond’s preferences in Champagne,” she chuckled lightly under her breath. “We are certainly not making a martini.”
“Just a quick comment or two before we begin with our first Champagne,” Clara paused on the moment. “Never hide the label and wrap the bottle like a newborn baby. This contemptible practice actually began in Parisian nightclubs.”
“Really?” I was taken aback. “Obviously a devious way to serve cheap Champagne and not reveal to the customer that he or she was being charged for a more expensive bottle of bubbly.”
“Precisely,” Clara nodded in agreement.
“Keep in mind that you want to have a towel readily available to wipe off any excess water from the bottle as you draw it from the ice bucket,” Annelle lightly patted the back of my hand. “Ready for our first selection?”
Our first champagne was a Tattinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc 1998.
Bond of the novels had a proclivity for Tattinger. It is also reported that this Champagne was the favorite of Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming. In the 1963 Bond film, “From Russia with Love,” Sean Connery is seen chilling a bottle of Blanc de Blanc while in a tryst with Sylvia Trench. Later in the film, Bond and Tatiana Romanova enjoy a Blanc de Blanc with dinner.
Appropriately presented in an antique-style bottle of XV111th century design, Tattinger has succeeded once again in producing a superb Champagne. Our 1998 vintage was rich in Chardonnay flavors of ripe peach and nectarine. The wine has a formidable structure and is the ultimate expression of the Tattinger style. Truly a Champagne of great refinement, elegance, and delicacy. For me, the 1998 is clean and aristocratic.
“I like how finely balanced, the 1998 is on the palate,” Clara paused as she savored the wine. “Fine crisp acidity and subtle mineral notes.”
“Along with a toasty finish that is lasting and complex,” Annelle nodded in approval.
Any fan of the Bond franchise is quick to point out the two other prestigious Champagnes have dominated the series, Dom Perignon and Bollinger.
Sean Connery’s Bond had a penchant for odd year vintages of Dom Perignon. In the 1962, “Dr. No,” the good doctor cautions 007 not to break a vintage 1955 in some futile attempt to escape. Bond mutters back that he preferred the ’53. Apparently Marilyn Monroe would agree with our dashing secret agent. The blond bombshell often praised the 1953 Dom Perignon as her Champagne of choice.
Our next selection was a Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Brut 1998.
This Dom is a beauty. It is creamy, gentle, all finesse and elegance. It is perfectly balanced and harmonious. The 1998 has been repeatedly recommended to me by my colleagues because it has no rough edges. I’m not sure if it will be considered an all-time great Dom Perignon, but I am sure that it will age very well.
I agree,” Clara was quick to comment. “The 1998 has wonderful presentation and quite flavorful.”
“I like its clean, non-acid flavor as well,” Anelle’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “This Champagne is simply marvelous.”
The short interlude with George Lazenby as the sophisticated secret agent saw no change in Bond preference for the bubbly. In the 1969 film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby orders ’57 Dom Perignon. Once again Bond displays a preference for odd years. This actually comes the director of the early Bond films, Terence Young. Terence was quite fond of Dom Perignon and these little idiosyncratic touches were added by he and Sean Connery.
With the release in 1973 of “Live and Let Die,” we see Bond … James Bond moving in a completely different direction. Not only has Roger Moore taken up 007’s Walther PPK, this Bond prefers Bollinger. Following suite, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan all seemed to have a proclivity for Bollinger RD. Once Daniel Craig entered the franchise, he too continued the love affair with Bollinger. However, the latest 007 prefers Grand Annee.
Our last wine was a Bollinger Grande Annee 2002.
I make it no secret that Bollinger RD has long been my Champagne of choice. For me, Bollinger is Champagne. It is richly fruited with bold yeasty notes, yet with an elegance and finesse that is typical of the brand’s superior vintage wines. I found our 2002 Grand Annee to be quite a stunning and noble wine. This Champagne delivers and will be highly sought after.
“I like the toasty notes of Bollinger,” Clara paused for emphasis. “It is definitely a man’s champagne, yet with just enough of a hint at subtlety that women will find most appealing. A flawless Champagne.”
“I drink a lot of Bollinger, especially when I am with Gregory,” Annelle flashed me a warm smile. “I find our Grand Annee to be just beautiful. It is flawless, precise, and a sheer joy. It is the art of wine in one of its most perfect forms.”
“Bond did not say this, in fact it was Madame Lily Bollinger. However, I feel it an appropriate way to conclude our our tasting, I flashed Anelle and Clara a wide beaming grin.
“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty of course.”
“Touche,” Annelle and Clara chuckled in unison.
“I guess the only remaining question is dinner,” I paused on the moment. “Austrian or French … But that my friends is another story …”