Many wines aspire but few can attain the title of champagne.
The bubbly wine that is a staple of weddings and New Year’s Eves is expensive for a reason: For a wine to be legally classified as champagne, its grapes must come from a very specific region in northeastern France.
But Arlingtonians needn’t go across the ocean to imbibe the ultimate status symbol beverage. A local wine shop is teaming up with the county’s Department of Cultural Affairs to host a champagne-tasting event next week.
The event will feature nine different champagnes from Reims, Arlington’s "sister city" located in the champagne-producing area of France. It is being co-sponsored by The Curious Grape, a local wine shop in Shirlington that specializes in wine education.
"People are thirsty not just for wine but also for wine knowledge," said Suzanne McGrath, owner and founder of The Curious Grape.
She said that she is hosting the event, titled A Taste of Reims, because she feels that, while almost everyone has sampled champagne at some point, few people truly know what it is about.
"People want to explore [champagne]," McGrath said. "Even though it’s familiar, there’s so much about it that they don’t know. People want to take a look at it and find out more about it."
McGrath’s shop opened in Shirlington in the summer of 2001. Prior to being in the wine business, she practiced law in Rhode Island and worked as a consultant in Washington.
She then found herself becoming more and more interested in wine; somewhat spontaneously, she decided to devote herself to the beverage full time.
McGrath became a certified wine educator and started The Curious Grape to provide a "warm, comfortable atmosphere" in which to learn about and purchase wines.
At first, many of her clients knew very little about wines.
"But they stayed with us and they’ve learned a lot," she said, "So now they’re not so much novices. That’s been the fun part about this."
A TASTE OF REIMS is also being co-sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Department through its Planet Arlington initiative launched last year. The initiative's goals are to expose different cultures to Arlington by importing arts and humanities from other countries to the county.
Jim Byers, spokesman for Planet Arlington, said that the county approached The Curious Grape about holding a champagne tasting event to highlight Arlington’s sister city of Reims and that "they jumped right on it." He also said that the event will feature various cheeses and chocolates to accompany the champagne.
The champagne tasting event also had a not-so-secret benefactor in the Cultural Affairs Department. Jon Palmer Claridge, a program director at the department, is a huge wine aficionado and he came up with the initial idea to hold the event after traveling to Reims.
"I visited there to do some work for our cultural exchange," he said, "and I thought [the champagne tasting event] would be a natural extension."
Claridge said that the event will serve to educate people about a familiar drink they may not know very much about.
"People hear champagne but they don’t really know much about it," he said. "They generally drink it at weddings and that’s it."
McGrath said that the people that attend the event will learn not just about champagne, but also about Reims.
The city, which partnered with Arlington three years ago, has a rich history in France and was used for coronations in medieval times. It experienced devastating destruction during WWI but a high-speed train was just opened that connects the city with Paris, spurring an economic revitalization.
"Great wine reflects where it’s grown," Claridge said. "The particular geographic characteristics of that area mean that [Reims has] the potential to create the best sparkling wine in the world."
But he also added, "That’s why it’s so expensive."