By Omer Hamid
Leonardo da Vinci said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I see his point and can kind of understand where he’s coming from, but I’m sorry Leo, if I thought sophistication was simple before my evening at The Champagne Assembly at The Renaissance Hotel in St. Pancras, then I was always going to leave with very, very different ideas about it.
One of the most beautiful buildings in London; a hall surrounded by ladies and gentleman of the very elite, of the cultured, sophisticated echelons of society with only the finest tastes and pursuits. Then there was me. Stumbling through the door just a fraction too late to appear classy, with all the grace of a sledgehammer. And so it began.
The 2nd Champagne Assembly followed the wide acclaim of the first event of its kind in 2010. Hosted by G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, it promised to be an evening to explore the history, tradition and artistic roots of Champagne as well as an opportunity to delve into science, craftsmanship and the wider world of luxury, as we understand it. For the life of me, I couldn’t work out what I was doing there. I had a lot to learn in a short space of time.
I managed to attend only a fraction of the entire Assembly, but what I saw was enough to leave me reeling at how very little I knew. And so when I sat down to recount the experience, I think the best way to do so was in three, quick rules that I’ve devised to understand sophistication. Perhaps one day you might find yourself in a situation where this can be a helpful guide. Perhaps not, and I’ll just come across like the uncultured cretin that I am, either way I think it’s worth a read.
1. Luxury means detail, precision and tradition. I’ve never been one for the tiny details, nor was I the guy in the class who had much patience in school. Maybe that’s why I found so incredible the level of detail treasured by the Champenois! To a matter of precision, some Champagne that was being tasted needed to be within 6 to 14 degrees. Holy methodological, Batman. One of the speakers, Didier Mariotti, Chef de Cave at G.H. Mumm (pictured above), said something that really struck me about the art of Champenois. He said when you taste the blend, you cannot afford to taste for the moment, you taste for it to be ready in ten years. That’s detail. That’s precision. That’s the kind of luxury you can’t find in any other industry, it’s why Champagne means sophistication.
2. There really is a je ne sais quoi. If there’s one thing I could take away from the Assembly, it’s that just like a talent for art or literature, there is something that simply radiates sophistication. I know this because in that hall during the Assembly it could be felt absolutely everywhere, apart from the seat that I had plonked myself in to. Gentlemen with beautifully distinguished French accents and quiet brilliance in their knowledge of history, art and the refined way of life. It was enough to leave a commoner like me slightly star-struck. At the end of the day, this is an avenue of life where you have to have that … something. I’m not sure what it is yet; I’ll keep you posted.
3. The palate is a complicated thing. I can’t stress that enough. I went to the evening assuming I would hear about Champagne but I’m probably none the wiser about it at all. The experts and panellists alike wanted to hit home that the modern consumer wants the same things as luxury consumers always have: style and substance. Style for an emotional value, substance is the guarantee of quality. But even that can’t substitute the complex relationship between food, wine and all things that the palate combines. Smoky, rich, hard, tart…if we tried to list them all, we’d find ourselves in quite another Assembly. The point is you can’t ever underestimate the creative aspect of Champagne. And to respect something that refined; that is sophistication.
The 2nd Champagne Assembly was, as I’ve heard of the first, an opportunity to showcase an industry that has been as quietly illustrious as it has been successful. There’s a lot more to sophistication than I, or indeed da Vinci, could have understood. Sophistication is an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it there’s… well there’s no substitute.
If you’re looking for sophistication in the capital, than you better check out our guide to the best Champagne bars in London.