Food & Drink

Let It Pour: A go-to Champagne

As a kid, I never knew how to answer when adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I knew they were looking for “doctor” or “lawyer” or maybe even “dragonologist,” which is my 7-year-old son’s unwavering response to that query. But I had no occupation in mind. All I knew was that I wanted desperately to be a grown-up. Someone who had it all together. Someone in charge. Someone who knew the answers. When I was a grown-up, I’d figure out the rest.

In my 20s, the idea of adulthood came into sharper focus, though the attainment of the goal seemed distant. Grown-ups wore Talbot’s sweaters and served Christmas dinner with polished silver and knew which Champagne to have on hand.

Now, with the clock running out on 2014, it occurs to me that if deeds define us, I may have become an adult at last. The year has been a veritable to-do list of grown-up tasks: I bid farewell to my last grandparent, I became a boss, I sent a beloved pet to its final reward, I even bought three pairs of the same comfortable, sensible flats in different colors.

As I was completing all these adult-sized chores, though, it seldom occurred to me that I might sound like a grownup to anyone else. It certainly never occurred to me that I might sound like a grown-up wine snob. But, apparently, I’m just as capable of seeming like a boorish adult as anyone else who has ever refinanced a house or upped her home insurance liability.

I know this because I was enjoying a holiday drink with an old friend at the bar at the very grown-up but comfortable 18 Seaboard restaurant in downtown Raleigh, when something along the lines of this phrase escaped my lips, “But you can get that anywhere, in Target, even.”

To which restaurateur Jason Smith replied good-naturedly with something resembling, “Well, what does it matter where you get it if it’s good?”

I had asked Smith what sort of reasonably priced bubbly he would recommend, and he had said Mumm. Smith is the sort of person whose advice on food and wine I seek because he’ll stock a ridiculously expensive and imminently quaffable bourbon like Black Maple Hill, meanwhile his kitchen will gladly make you a simple side-serving of sautéed collards if that’s the bar food that you most want to have with your eggnog martini.

For years, I have avoided the question of which bubbly to have on hand – much as I have avoided polishing silver – because the adultness of being able to choose one daunted me. But after my exchange with Smith, I stopped in the wine aisle of Target and picked up a bottle of Mumm Napa Brut Prestige. It was on sale for $17.99 a bottle.

We shared it with my brother and sister-in-law alongside a Monday night dinner of tuna sashimi and a spicy soba noodle salad. The Mumm was toasty and crisp and full of apple flavor, with bubbles that seemed to laugh but not too loud. The finish was clean and didn’t linger, and like a good party guest, it left a good feeling in its wake.

No doubt there are tons of better, pricier authentically French Champagnes, but this bubbly’s pleasantness and moderate price suit the grown-up that I’ve become this year. Having it as a go-to means I’ve achieved yet another trapping of adulthood.

And since Christmas dinner is at my house this year, I guess it’s time I got out the silver polish.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at