A Celebration of Champagne

Pop some bubbly and celebrate Valentine’s Day the right way this year!


To say Olivier Zambaux knows a thing or two about Champagne, just might be the understatement of the year. Zambaux has been with the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for more than 11 exciting years and for the last four years he’s been living out his passion as the Assistant Director of Banquets.

“What I like about the job is it’s always changing. One day it could be an event for two people and then the following month we’ll have an event with 13,000 people. It’s always changing and it’s challenging for everyone here at the hotel, especially for banquets, and I like that.”
-Olivier Zambaux

Zambaux has also been instructing the always popular Champagne Seminar at the annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic ever since the first event was held in 2010. The fact that Zambaux has been a Wine Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers for 8 years would be reason enough for him to have the authority to speak about the beverage, but that isn’t his only impressive credential within the world of Champagne. Zambaux is also a proud native of the city of Sainte-Menehould a small town located north east of France. The city of Sainte-Menehould is located in the department of Marne of the French region Champagne-Ardenne. The area is significant because it is also the birthplace of Dom Pérignon, born in 1638, who is credited as making significant contributions to the production and quality of Champagne.

“Champagne is a passion! The drink itself is beautiful and being born in the same town as Dom Pérignon is pretty special.” -Olivier Zambaux

The top sparkling wine producing countries are France, The United States, Spain, Italy, Germany and South Africa, but few know that only sparkling wine from France can be called Champagne. The Champagne region has over 74,000 acres under vine, 261 Champagne houses (wineries that purchase some or all of the grapes) and over 19,000 growers. The region is split into five areas and each uses a different percentage of the three grape varietals which means the Champagne from each of these areas will taste very different from one another. The Pinot Noir varietal imparts structure and power to the blend as well as aromas of red fruits. The Pinot Meunier varietal is supple and fruity. Its bouquet is intense, developing quickly over time and giving a certain roundness to a wine. The third varietal is Chardonnay, the bringer of finesse. This variety provides a wine with floral and sometimes mineral aromas. Its slow development makes it ideal for aging.

“When we think about Champagne, we think about celebration. I do believe that life itself is a celebration so why not enjoy Champagne every day?”

-Olivier Zambaux

When it came to Champagne, I used to be like most of the population who think that it should only be brought out for specific celebrations. Wedding Toast? Pop the Champagne! New Years Eve? Put that bubbly on ice! Fortunately, a fascinating conversation with Zambaux opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t need to be wearing a tuxedo or a fancy dress in order to enjoy a nice glass of Champagne. Many people don’t realize that Champagne is actually far more versatile with food than any other wine as it can be paired with a wide variety of different cuisines. Another common misconception is that Champagne should only be drunk at the beginning of a meal, but the beverage can actually be enjoyed throughout the entire dinner by starting with a light body Champagne and then gradually moving towards a fuller body.

Olivier Zambaux

Olivier Zambaux

According to Zambaux, Champagne can even be paired with popcorn! The bizarre pairing was first suggested by his Food and Beverage Director, but Zambaux says he has to agree now that he’s tried it for himself. The acid in the Champagne cuts through oily food and helps to clean that oiliness out of your mouth, so believe it or not, the butter we pour over our popcorn is actually a perfect pairing. The next time you’re enjoying popcorn and a movie at home, consider having a small glass of refreshing Champagne with you! I have yet to try it, but this pairing is easily my favorite suggestion as you don’t need a reason or a fancy date to kick back and pop in a DVD. A Valentine’s Day consisting of greasy pizza and Netflix is just as deserving of Champagne as a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner at one of Orlando’s many fine restaurants. If you feel a fancy dinner is calling your name however, consider feeding that desire with a Valentine’s Day celebration at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel.

“All the restaurants at the Swan and Dolphin will be celebrating Valentine’s Day! We have an extensive Champagne list and I believe it will accommodate a lot of different palates so people will be able to enjoy some nice Champagne pairings without breaking the bank.” -Olivier Zambaux

With over 70 sommeliers on property, there are plenty of experts, just like Zambaux, who are ready to answer all of your questions and make sure you enjoy only the best and most authentic Champagne. For those of you who are celebrating at home this year, here’s what you should look out for when purchasing your own bottle of bubbly. First, the bubbles should be small and should appear as fine, steady streams and be long lasting. Second, the nose should have somewhat of a fruity character, but should also show some of the yeasty, toasty character. Lastly, the palate experience should be dramatic. The once fine, lazy stream of bubbles should explode on the palate and produce a creamy mousse, which coats the palate and last long in the finish. You are now ready to enjoy a nice, chilled glass of Champagne on Valentine’s Day and beyond. santé!

Here comes the fun

First of all, and quite logically, French people do not say “cheers” when toasting. Instead you can use “santé” (health).

So that was the easy part. Now you need to be extremely cautious, the following rules are of utmost importance.

1. Look at the person you are toasting with in the eyes. While this is not as essential as the next rule, it is considered the polite way to toast.

2. Do not add ice to your glass of wine.

3. Make sure that everyone toasted before you drink.

4. NEVER cross your glass with someone else…

5. Do not put down your glass between the toast and the first sip.

Wait, what if I do cross my glass with someone else?

Then you are going to suffer from seven years of bad sex or seven years of bad luck, whichever version you prefer. Note that this is also true in Germany.

Once upon a time in the kingdom of France

These traditions may seem crazy to modern readers, however they did make sense at the time.

It’s said that people used to exchange a part of the liquid contained in their glass with the person they were toasting with. That way they could both be sure that none of the glass was poisoned. This is the reason why looking in the eyes was extremely important. This way people could detect stress, but most of all were not able to see if the content of the two glasses really mixed.

Later, as the world became less violent, exchanging the content of both glasses became a rare practice while it became normal to simply clink glasses. The fear of poison also explains why  not drinking after toasting was considered suspicious.

Nowadays, these problems don’t exist any more, but the tradition remained.