The vile trenches of WWI were certainly no place for a lady and make for an unlikely setting for a tender Christmas movie.
But Joyeux Noël (2005), a French film written and directed by Christian Carion, tells a true and inspirational story about a spontaneous and unsanctioned truce between enemy forces on Christmas Eve, 1914.
The film is set in Northern France just outside of Lens, where Scottish, French and German soldiers are united through music and eventually convene in No Man's Land, sharing stories, photos and, naturally, champagne. As such, I paired Joyeux Noël with Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve ($62.95 CDN, $51.95 USD), a non-vintage champagne from Reims, France.
A powerful love story between an aristocratic German couple, both opera stars, is captivating against the chaos of war. Anna Sörensen (Diane Krüger) divines a plan to spring her husband, Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann), from the trenches for just one night together in exchange for a Christmas recital for the German high command.
After the performance, Nikolaus feels compelled to return to sing for his comrades, a more worthy audience. Anna, as beautiful as a porcelain doll, insists on returning with him to the perilous front, and they make beautiful music together. The acting is superb across the board. The classic songs are sung not by the actors but by true professionals (Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazón), and may just make the hair on the back your neck stand on end, as it did mine.
Joyeux Noël speaks to the tenacity of fraternal goodwill in times of extreme hardship and suffering, or the miraculous triumph of the Christmas Spirit, if you allow yourself to get swept away by reason for the season. It's full of remarkably touching moments, big and small, richly deserving of its Oscar nod.
The Champagne region, with a long history of violence dating back to the days of Attila the Hun in the fourth century A.D., was ravaged by major battles from both world wars. Taittinger's Chateau called 'La Marquetterie' was in fact the headquarters of the famous French General Joffre in WWI. Originally founded in 1934, Taittinger is run by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, a man of classic French charm and grace, with whom I've shared a toast (or two) in my drinking travels, lucky me.
Champagne is undoubtedly special, usually associated with celebration, pomp and pageantry, but I'd drink it every day if I had the means. Many bubbly beverages have been called "champagne" historically, but if it's not from the Champagne region, then it's just sparkling wine, folks!
The main grapes used in champagne production are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne is a cool climate region with mean temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius, which create challenges for the ripening process. However, cooler temperatures produce higher levels of acid in the grapes, ideal for sparkling wine. This makes vintage champagne even more special, because the various houses only declare a vintage in exceptional years.
Champagne is made through the Méthode Champenoise whereby, after primary fermentation and bottling, a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle induced by the addition of yeast and sugar. Each bottle must be aged a minimum of 1.5 years, and undergoes a process called riddling (remuage in French) where the bottle is regularly turned slightly to manipulate the lees into the neck of the bottle. A labor-intensive process, this is still done by hand in many houses.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve is golden straw yellow in color, with strands of tiny bubbles revealing this sparkler's quality and finesse, after aging a minimum of three years. It's made from 40 per cent Chardonnay and 60 per cent a mix of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The nose has a strong toast element, true to form for all great champagnes, but it's mixed with peach and floral notes. The palate is lively with balanced acidity and a touch of honey. The finish is exceptionally elegant with good length. Sip and savor this delightful champagne with Joyeux Noël and allow both to take you back to Christmas long past.
Jill Vanderkooy, Sommelier and certifiable bon vivant, has worked in the wine industry for over 10 years, has been drinking wine for 25 years and is a true devotee of film across all genres. Her liver thanks you for reading.