Bookends for a Great Evening

To begin an evening with the exhilarating sight, scent and savor of great bubbly, and to end it with an artisanal dessert, is to live life to the fullest.

I have a confession to make: I am not a big dessert person. Certainly, when I’m in a fine restaurant and the dessert cart is brought out, I’m as wide-eyed as everyone else at the table. Pastry chefs have truly elevated desserts to an art form, and all those domes, towers, chocolate curls and sugar cages are enough to make a Puritan crumble.

But while the others are ordering triple chocolate mouse and exotic soufflés, I’m content to order an assortment of sorbets and a delicious cup of herbal peppermint tea. It’s not that I’m more virtuous. It’s just that, while my fellow diners are willing to live in the moment, abandon themselves to pleasure, and forget about war and the volatile stock market by enjoying a big, luscious piece of chocolate that melts voluptuously in the mouth—I am thinking about how many calories it contains, and how long I have to run in the morning to burn off the delicious indulgence.

Regardless of my own tussle with health and longevity, I think of Champagne and dessert as the ultimate bookends of an evening of sublime entertainment. There is no more celebratory drink, no better way to kick off an evening’s festivities, than a glass of bubbly. It perks up our moods, tweaks our appetites and delights our eyes. This issue is dedicated to all things celebratory, and at the festive center are Champagne and sparkling wines.

In this issue, European Editor Roger Voss takes us on a tasting tour of single-estate Champagnes. These are Champagnes made in the old style by producers who source grapes from the smallest parcels imaginable. If you’re accustomed to the sprawling vineyards of the Central Coast in this country, imagine a vineyard about the size of a tennis court. The Champagnes of the large houses are magnificent, certainly, but these little-known producers are making great wines at affordable prices. This is something sophisticated Parisians have known for some time, but now the secret is out, and some of these wines are available in this country. They are worth seeking out.

There are sparkling wines other than those crafted in Champagne; Ed McCarthy reviews some of the most prominent and delicious. If you’re not familiar with the dry delights of Prosecco, Lambrusco or Fresia from Italy, or Vouvray from France, or some of the others McCarthy examines, then you’re in for a treat. Many of these are food wines, believe it nor not. They are inspired choices to accompany hearty Italian and more delicate French cuisine. Producers are trying to get the message across that sparkling wines are delicious with food, and I hereby raise a glass to that notion.

We know that you, our readers, are savvy, sophisticated and fun-loving, but that doesn’t mean you don’t fall prey to the most common mistake hosts make when they throw a holiday party: They forget to have a good time. The key, of course, is to be fully prepared—to anticipate all problems, arrange matters so that the party practically runs itself and you can spend time with your guests. In that spirit, we present F. Paul Pacult’s guide to holiday entertaining. You’ll find formulations for how many guests you can comfortably invite, how much wine to buy, how much food to prepare, and how to arrange it all—even hints at how to politely get your beloved friends, relatives and neighbors to leave when you want them to.

We’re very proud to feature on our cover Jacques Torres, formerly the executive pastry chef at Le Cirque in New York City, and now the owner of his own chocolate shop and factory in Brooklyn. Jacques Torres is, as much as anyone, responsible for the revolution in desserts in this country. If you ever wondered why a slice of cake and a blob of ice cream became an upright wedge of cake with piped swirls of fruit sauce and delicate spheres of artisan ice cream, Chef Torres can claim some measure of credit. In this issue, Torres reminisces about his childhood gatherings during holidays in France, and then offers five recipes for desserts of such unbridled decadence that after merely reading them, I put on my running shoes and went for the burn.


Published on December 1, 2002

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