‘The Story of Champagne’ a bubbly trek through the sparkling wine’s history
As you might expect, this is not exactly a hard-hitting expose, but it’s a most welcome change of gear from all the documentaries out there tackling deadly serious subjects.
When the best man or the maid of honor gives the funny and heartwarming speech at the wedding and then tops it off with a toast, what’s in the glass?
Probably not an IPA.
After the team wins the championship and they’re going wild in the locker room, what are they guzzling from the bottle and what are they spraying everywhere?
Most likely not a Pinot Grigio.
In every rom-com, when it’s time for that special surprise dinner, what does the server bring to the table?
Gravitas Ventures presents a documentary directed by Frank Mannion. No MPAA rating. Running time: 88 minutes. Available Friday on demand.
Hint: it won’t be shots of Jagermeister.
Champagne! Champagne is the drink of celebrations, of heartfelt toasts, of memorable celebrations. It is the undisputed royalty of all the adult beverages — and in the breezy, bubbly (sorry), enlightening and entertaining “Sparkling: The Story of Champagne,” we meet some of the most powerful movers and shakers from the most legendary brand names in the business, and we get some nifty history lessons as well.
As you might expect, this is not exactly a hard-hitting expose (I’m not sure what that would even be), but it’s a most welcome change of gear from all the documentaries out there tackling deadly serious subjects. Sometimes we just need to cleanse the palate.
With a score worthy of a “Downton Abbey” episode and sweeping drone shots of lush vineyards, “Sparkling: The Story of Champagne” opens with a litany of quotes from historical figures, as recited by director and sometimes narrator Frank Mannion:
“Peter the Great of Russia … went to bed with four bottles of Champagne every night. Casanova considered Champagne essential equipment for seduction. Napoleon once said, ‘In victory, you deserve it, in defeat, you need it.’ Winston Churchill once said, ‘It makes my wits more nimble.’ ”
Hey, whatever excuse you needed, Historical Figures.
The earliest section of the documentary is a travelogue through France, where we meet Bruno Paillard from Champagne Bruno Paillard, who is so suave and sophisticated, his ensemble matches the hue of the copper-colored Champagne he has just poured; Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon of Champagne Louis Roederer, who speaks of the special qualities of Cristal: “When I make Cristal, it’s first finesse, second finesse, third finesse,” and Laurent D’Harcourt of Pol Roger, the preferred brand of Winston Churchill, who is said to have consumed some 40,000 bottles (!) in his lifetime.
Later, “Sparkling” makes the journey to England and to New York City, and we visit various British sparkling wine estates, as well as the famous, mural-covered Bemelmans Bar on the Upper East Side, where patrons sing the praises of Champagne as if they’re in a TV ad.
There’s also lots of humble-bragging every step of the way, as when Paul Beavis of Champagne Lanson, which was founded in 1760, notes it’s been supplying Buckingham Palace with bubbly since 1901. There’s also discussion of the rivalry between France and Great Britain over who really invented champagne.
Other famous brands such as Piper-Heidsieck (the official Champagne of the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival), Bollinger (the product-placement choice of James Bond movies through the years), Taittinger and of course, Dom Perignon, get their moments in the spotlight as well.
The closest “Sparkling” comes to addressing any controversies is when the French traditionalists express muted outrage that the American government allows California-made sparkling wine to be labeled as Champagne, even though it doesn’t come from, well, the Champagne region of France.
But then it’s back to history lessons and celebrations.
Truth be told, if you lined up samples from all of the aforementioned brands in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other — but I’d sure thank you for offering me all that Champagne.
It’s nearly impossible to watch “Sparkling” and not suddenly have the urge to sip a glass or two.