Bubbles, Books, & a Bloomy Rind: Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut with a Good Read and a Cheese Board

Greg went away on a work trip at the beginning of December. It was right after Thanksgiving, after all the family headed home, and just before all the holiday parties got underway. It was pretty perfect timing. While I missed him a ton, I completely took advantage of those days to chillax and recharge. Bubble baths, face masks, and old rom-coms were all part of the line-up while at home. I also spent a good part of that time just curled up in bed with a book – it was soooooo nice.

The book keeping me company was The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel and I tore right through it. It’s an engrossing piece of historical fiction that follows the lives of several people living in Champagne during World War II. The plot is centered largely around the inhabitants of the fictional Maison Chauveau, intertwined with threads set in the modern day.
The narrative is told through several complicated women who serve as the POV character, Inès and Céline during WWII, and Liv in 2019.

Thanks to Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Cam for arranging for the samples of the book. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.

The story is based on details from true events. Because of its proximity to the German border, Champagne was one of the hardest hit areas in France during both of the World Wars. During World War II it was also a centerpoint for Resistance activities, since the labyrinth-like caves of the great Champagne houses served as a perfect place to hide munitions, supplies, and refugees being trafficked by the Resistance. Via the characters in Harmel’s book the reader experience the incredible dangers faced by the residents of Champagne at the time, particularly those working against the Nazis. 

There are no clear cut heros in the book either, which I appreciate. The main characters are layered, all capable of great good, but all fallible and imperfect as well at different moments. There are forbidden love affairs, as well as betrayals and deceptions even among the closest of characters, all set against the intensity of the war, which keeps the plot moving and the pages turning.

This was a good read, but I have to say that my experience of it was enhanced by my having read several other books on the region and the time period. Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure and Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, both by Donald and Petie Kladstrup, are two of my favorite wine books. They’re both non-fiction that read in a very narrative way. But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World's Favorite Wine by David White is another great resource for background on the region. Reading any of these in series with The Winemaker’s Wife would make a great combo for any Champagne lover as they all add depth of understanding to the complex and often dark history of the world’s most celebratory wines.

Snuggle up with  them now that the holiday craziness is starting to wind down – take a break before NYE or once the new year kicks off. They’d also make great late gifts for wine lovers that might still be straggling on your holiday list.

The Wine

Inspired by the read, I decided to pop open a bottle of Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut NV Robert-Jean de Vogüé was the president of the famous house during the war and was also a key member of the Resistance in real life (he’s also briefly mentioned in the novel). He teamed up with Maurice Doyard, another vineyard owner, to create the Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne, or CIVC. The organization is still in existence today, but at the time its purpose was to serve as collective bargaining group between the members and Otto Klaebisch, the ‘wine fuhrer’ who oversaw the region for the Nazis. De Vogüé was simultaneously working more clandestinely as well, as explained by this excerpt from But First, Champagne:

Robert-Jean de Vogüé was in fact leading the political arm of the Resistance. De Vogüé figured out that large champagne shipments to unusual destinations—like Romania and Egypt—portended military offensives. Nazi leaders liked to reward troops by breaking out the champagne after battlefield victories. Resistance operators collected and passed on this information to British intelligence. But this operation was exposed at the end of 1943. On November 24, de Vogüé was called to Klaebisch’s office to discuss the recent harvest. There he was arrested. Brought before a military tribunal, he was sentenced to death.

We opened the bottle of Impérial Brut
NV (average price $50, but I found a good deal on it at Trader Joe's for $40.)just the two of us, on an evening just before the holiday craziness was about to kick back into high gear. I picked up notes of lemon, apples, and fresh white flowers on the nose. On the palate it was fresh with gold apples, green pear, lemons, a little ginger, and hints of buttered saltine crackers. This wine is typically a blend of 30-40% Pinot Noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier, and 20-30% Chardonnay.

The Cheese

We had it with another cheese spread – and I do love a cheese spread. Among the gifts we received for Christmas was a box of cheeses from Greg’s brother Dave and our sister-in-law Julia. On this evening we opened this Kunik Mini triple crème cheese from Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman, New York. It’s a bloomy rind cheese (aka a soft-ripened cheese), much like a brie, which means a bacteria is used to encourage a thin, soft rind to grow or "bloom" on the outside of the cheese. This one is made from goat’s milk and Jersey cow cream, which the company says “makes it richer and more flavorful than a brie-type cheese yet more subtle and sumptuous than similarly ripened goat cheeses.”

This cheese had a buttery, tacky texture that was dense and creamy. It had notes of hay, white mushroom, and a hint of citrus tang. It was lightly earthy, with a hint of toasted nuttiness, and a nice tangy bite on the finish.

The wine and cheese made a great pairing, with the Kunik bringing out deeper orchard fruit notes in the Champagne.

There were bits and pieces of a couple of other cheese on the board as well. The Champagne was solid with an ash rind goat cheese. An aged, hard Italian cow’s milk cheese worked really well as well, bringing out more of the nutty notes in the wine. We also had some good tinned sardines which brought out the saline minerality of the wine.

Hope you all have been enjoying your holidays, and an early happy new year!

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  1. Thanks for joining the party. I loved your take on the book as well as your cheese offering. Will be on the hunt now. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for arranging the books! I really enjoyed it.


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