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May 23, 2006

Mr. Henry Drinks Champagne

Filed under: Japanese Food,Mr. Henry,Wine — Mr. Henry @ 7:30 pm

As a dinner guest at the Metropolitan Opera’s Grand Tier restaurant on Friday night, Mr. Henry found himself confronted with a common dilemma: should he order a glass of champagne for himself when his hosts André and Susie were drinking still wine?

Opera Hotty
The other question, no less vexing, was what to order from the menu. The opera was to begin at 7:30. The divine Renée Fleming would be singing the title role. What if Mr. Henry were to order the duck breast maroccaine and suffer stomach growls during her too, too soft renditions of Handel’s da capo arias? [As it was, Renée had a hard enough time carrying that huge hall without intestinal interferences from the audience.] What if the duck’s garlic were to invade the space of Mr. Henry’s near neighbor in Susie’s high-priced front row seats?

Sitting in the opera restaurant at 5:45 p.m., Mr. Henry quickly weighed each of these strategic decisions. At both of the 25-minute intermissions yet to come, Mr. Henry would amuse himself by watching women’s fancy shoes pad past and thinking how pleased The Manolo would be if were here. [And is he here?? How can one be sure he is not?] During these intermissions, to help refresh the spirits Mr. Henry normally buys a glass of champagne at the bar.

Too much alcohol early in the evening, however, renders the third act an abyss of gloom, or in the words of the eloquent Joan, “ a cosmic time sink.” Too little leaves the Henry intelligence over-stimulated by thoughts of the week’s mundane annoyances. No, it is best to take some alcoholic libation for its relaxant and slightly anesthetic effects, but how much, and which choice of drink?

At the bar the best pour by far is the champagne. Nothing else offers its combination of aperitif, dessert, and post-prandial digestive. Champagne is at once a beginning and an ending. Moreover, it should be taken alone. Once a cork has popped, the drinker should stick with champagne for the remainder of the evening.


Having settled on the halibut with morels in cream sauce, a preparation difficult to screw up, he noted with pleasure that the house Brut (Piper-Heidsieck) was no more expensive than a glass of anything else. That settled it! The evening would be one devoted faithfully to champagne.

The very best of pairings for champagne is a salty, strongly-flavored fish dish. Even the strongest Chinese or Indian spices cannot defeat Dom Pérignon’s eternal recipe. But in deference to Mr. Henry’s gastro-intestinal tract, which after all would be accompanying him to the performance, he wisely avoided such courageous culinary voyages and stuck to the mild white halibut.

In lieu of dessert, he opted for a second glass.

A Mr. Henry Dictum: Never drink champagne with sweets.

This may seem counter-intuitive but it is a dietary dictum Mr. Henry has tested empirically in the field, so to speak. The subsequent hangover, and there will always be a champagne hangover, is made far worse by the addition of extra sugars to an already super-sugared evening. If you run short of champagne, and Mr. Henry shudders to imagine such a situation, then a sweet course will bring champagne sugars bubbling back into the bloodstream for a half hour or so, after which you are on your own, beset with cotton-mouth, headache, and nausea. [Please note: this is not a strictly scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Mr. Henry is not a physiologist, after all. Please do not expect his learning to extend into every domain.]

Cote d'Azur
One more piece of advice: Mr. Henry decries the champagne cocktail as yet another example of “fusion” confusion. If you are in the south of France seated on a terrace in the dying light of a summer day and you are offered genuine wild forest raspberries in your champagne, well, what is the harm in that? Still, mixed drinks are a fundamental mistake.

[Here the keen reader may take note of a Henry proclivity towards things in their unadulterated version. Nadia calls him the “ascetic gourmand,” and Nadia is never really wrong.]


  1. Mr. Henry, I’ve observed that the house champagne of the Metropolitan opera goes well with their eggplant/mozarella sandwich they serve at the bar. And indeed, the intermission at the Metropolitan opera is the most comprehensive showcase for the best womens’ shoes in New York.

    I know the disgusting dessert/champagne combination all too well. The Tafelspitz’s work colleagues love to celebrate with the pairing of Black Forest cake with Moet. Talk about instant stomach ache. During such occasions, I open my emergency Graham’s port.

    Kir Royales are the only champagne cocktails that should remain legal.

    Comment by Tafelspitz — May 24, 2006 @ 10:03 am

  2. I’ve just started to enjoy champagnes, and so reading this was extremely helpful. I will definitely keep in mind of the once the cork is opened dictum, as well as the dangerous act of mixing champagne with dessert, both of which are new lessons. As you had so effectively and eloquently provided suggestions before for scotch, I would very much like to hear your recommendations for champagne, especially, rose champagne or pink champagne. Sorry, I’m still not familiar enough with champagne to know which is the right reference.

    Comment by PaperPusher — May 25, 2006 @ 3:59 pm

  3. Dear Paperpusher,

    Mr. Henry does not approve of rosé champagne, which is synonymous with pink champagne. Even in its driest form, brut, cloying sweetness overcomes the refreshing astringency of the true brew. This is not to say that Mr. Henry cannot imagine himself in a situation where he might drink it, please understand. But the scene would have to be a theme evening where decor (and perhaps undergarments) were all principally pink and where Mr. Henry had cast aside all pretense of modesty.

    Comment by Mr. Henry — May 26, 2006 @ 8:29 am

  4. What does Mr. Henry think of the French 77?

    Comment by ushie — May 27, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  5. I must disagree with Mr. Henry regarding Rose Champagnes. Roses are achieved by leaving the skins of the Pinot Noir grape (one of the 3 grapes used in Champagne, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) in with the juice for a short time, thus achieving a “pink” color. The best Roses are not “pink,” but more a lovely salmon laced with hints of gold. Beautiful! And because they are often made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes, they can be a bit more robust than the blended Champagnes or those made with all Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs). I have never had a Brut Rose that wasn’t incredibly refreshing with lovely acidity. And I often find them much more enhanced with mineral and earthy flavors, rather than fruity or “sweet” notes. On the other hand, I have had some brut Blanc de Blancs that could certainly be described as “fruity,” “sweet” and “cloying.” Basically, what I am saying is that I have had some magnificent Roses, and hate to see them all disparaged in one sweep of the blog. As with the people, judge not the Champagne by its color!

    Comment by Courtney — May 28, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

  6. I love champagne but am still a poor student and do not get to drink it very much. I greatly enjoyed your advice, and I am thrilled to know that it does indeed go with everything excepting sweets (but then if you have champagne you are already extravagant enough). Sadly my beau does not like champagne and will embarrass me by drinking the whole glass in one go to get rid of it, and even worse swirling it like a reisling in the glass. It’s very sad because otherwise he has very refined taste and can be taken almost anywhere.

    Comment by Emily — May 31, 2006 @ 6:23 pm

  7. I wonder whether Mr. Henry’s prescription against indulging in other libations when drinking champagne extends to less noble grapes that sparkle? In particular, I am quite partial to the Catalan custom of beginning each proper meal (and Catalans, being at least as civilized as the remainder of Iberia, tend to take most meals properly) with a glass of cava. Also, a bit of prosecco to start the conversation flowing has always improved my experience of a meal. Surely, I am not meant to abstain from well-matched wines for the remainder of each such meal?

    Comment by Emir — June 1, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  8. For those of us who love champagne but are on a limited budget, Cristalino is outstanding for about $7/bottle. I didn’t think you could have a decent champagne for so little, but it beats out much more expensive bottles hands down.

    Comment by FrippetyFra — June 4, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

  9. “Never drink champagne with sweets.”

    Better yet, never drink champagne with anything else. Having recently finished off a bottle of 1998 Dom Perignon, I can safely say that good champagne is like a great diva: it needs little to no accompaniment to shine.

    Comment by Frolic and Detour — June 12, 2006 @ 10:38 pm

  10. La BellaDonna asks, rather timidly, why Mr. Henry could not drink champagne while his hosts were drinking wine. Is not champagne a sparkling wine? Then it is merely a question of what wine each prefers: red, white, sparkling or not sparkling.

    La BellaDonna has one suggestion for Mr. Henry, if he invariably suffers from a champagne hangover: he might try the expedient of drinking great quantities of water before retiring for the evening; the hydration should lessen the next day’s discomfort.

    Comment by La BellaDonna — November 17, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

  11. Being the uncultured boor that I am, I had no idea it was in poor taste to drink champagne when your companions are drinking wine.

    Once I get started on champagne, it’s hard for me to stop, so I usually wake up with a hangover regardless of what I’ve been eating.

    Joe Bartender

    Comment by Joe Bartender — January 18, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

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