What do Kleenex, Band-Aids and Fridgidaires have in common? Hint: It’s not that they all offer solace after a bad Tinder hook-up.
The answer is they are all proprietary names commonly used as substitutes for the generic products of facial tissues, elastic bandages and refrigerators. I mean, when was the last time you cut yourself and asked someone for an elastic bandage? I even had to think about what Band-Aids are if they’re not called “Band-Aids.”
Now, when it comes to wine and spirits, there are also a lot of proprietary names that we take for granted and use generically. Champagne, Cognac and Bourbon are all monikers that are protected, like trademarks, by local laws, international trade agreements and batteries of flesh-eating lawyers, so woe be to those who trespass on such a name.
Take Champagne, for instance. In the States we tend to refer to any wine with bubbles and a Kardashian-sized cork in the bottle that’s drunk at celebrations as champagne. To us heathens, any sparkling wine is “champagne.” Well, put your hands in the air and step away from the André.
The fact of the matter is that “Champagne” can only be “Champagne” if it comes from the Champagne region of France, a small area some 90 miles northeast of Paris. It is also France’s northernmost appellation. (Remember last week’s post about place names? No, me either, but you can check it out for more than you ever wanted to know about appellations).
In any event, if you make sparkling wine in that little French enclave you, mes amis, may call your wine “Champagne.” But, if you’re in California or Australia or simply in another part of France, and you make a sparkler and have the temerity to put “champagne” on the label, be prepared for a knock on the door from Messieurs Weitz et Luxenberg. I’ve heard tell of winemakers forced to attend Marcel Marceau retrospectives as punishment for such a grievous transgression.
So because “Champagne” can only be from the Champagne region, other places have resorted to other names for the stuff. The Spanish call their sparkling wine “Cava,” while the Italians refer to their style of bubbly as “Prosecco.” In Germany you might expect the Teutonic word for sparkling wine to be something like “Spritzundfizzundtrinkenfun,” but actually the Germans call it “sekt.” Go figure.
Just about everyplace else simply calls it “sparkling wine,” but often with the term “champagne method” or “traditional method” on the label. The real snooty types (you know who you are) refer to the “methode Champenoise” which just means that those bottles of wine were made like they are in Champagne. How is that exactly? Well, that’s a great topic for another post, but in a nutshell, the traditional method means that the wine had a second fermentation in the bottle.
What about Cognac? Well, “Cognac,” which includes the well-known brands Hennessey and Remy Martin, is the proprietary name for brandy that’s made in the Cognac region of southwestern France. Brandy is the generic name for a distilled spirit that’s made from wine. (Brandy itself comes from a Dutch word, brandewijin, meaning “burned wine.”)
And that brings us to Bourbon. Bourbon, simply put, is American whiskey. The specifications for “Bourbon” are that it must be made from at least 51% corn and aged a minimum of 3 years in a new oak barrel that’s been charred over a flame. It doesn’t even have to be from Kentucky, though it does have to be from the good ol’ U S of A. There are, of course, other American whiskies that are not “bourbon,” those made from rye or barley, for example, but there are no “bourbons” that are not American.
Now that we understand the difference between generics and specifics, why not try a few interesting examples? Me, I’m going out for a Chalupa and a Slurpee.
Drappier Brut Champagne: This is the real deal. Lively effervescence with a racy acidity, this beautiful bubbly has flavors of apple, ginger and fresh baked pie crust coupled with a zesty finish. Just delish.
Taltarni 2011 Brut Taché: This is vintage sparkling wine done in the traditional method from Australia, but with a taché (a stain) of shiraz to give it just a hint of pink. Festive and rich, this wine has berry, apple and warm croissant flavors followed by a creamy finish. A fabulous sparkling wine that’s not “Champagne.”
Maison Rouge VSOP Cognac: Made in the town of Cognac, Maison Rouge is produced from at least 90% Ugni Blanc grapes, distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged a minimum of 2 years in French oak barrels. It’s smooth as silk with vanilla, cedar, toast, dried fruit and nutmeg flavors.
Four Roses Bourbon: The distiller of the year 4 out of the last 5 years Four Roses was 1 of only 6 distilleries to remain open (177 closed) during Prohibition. It was sold with a prescription for “medicinal purposes only.” Must have been the pear, spice, apple and honey flavors!
Widow Jane Bourbon: This amazing 8 year old whiskey is made right here in New York with water from the deep limestone caves near Rosendale. This is the only bourbon in the country made from heirloom corn that is completely GMO free, accounting perhaps for its amazing flavors of buttercream, cherry, orange and spice. This is fantastic bourbon.
‘Til next time.