Fizzical Jerks

One of champagne’s strengths is the way it covers off all the bases, both of quality, price and of the social niche it can be associated with.  For all its traditionally posh image, most of it still costs less than a ticket to a football match or half a pair of fairly average shoes.  It can be sublime and cost hundreds of any currency or it can be dross with an unknown name in a French supermarket for under €15.  That’s less than three branded lagers in the café next door. 

When it comes to social niche, or let’s just call it ‘social class’ if you are an economist and not a marketeer, the English may have one particular niche cornered.  It’s the English eccentric, upper middle class ‘ladies who lunch’ and their love, at lunch or not, of champagne.  In the USA, this group was called ‘social x-rays’ by Tom Wolfe in his 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, referring acidly to their skeletal figures and their love of gossip about innermost lives.

I confess I collect books about champagne and Champagne, particularly those in English.  One of the weirdest was written by a member of the London ‘ladies who lunch’ group and I say that without any criticism.  Any group of people who love champagne in my book deserve interest and respect.  But Champagne Exercises (1995) by Joan Oliphant-Fraser takes the biscuit.  A London socialite of the time, she had previously written The Champagne Diet and both books are about keeping fit with a champagne theme.  Many of the calisthenics involved in the step-by-step pictures, include a glass or big bottle of champagne in the hands to help you balance or provide resistance to the muscles.  There are thinly veiled puffs too for several houses, Pommery, Laurent-Perrier, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët and Ruinart included.  It’s funny and fun; totally nuts in fact.  I have a signed copy, though second hand, with the assignation ‘To Yoda, Happy Fizzicals, Joan Oliphant-Fraser.’  Yoda, where are you now?

I once met Joan Oliphant-Fraser.  She was a member of a group that booked a trip to Champagne which Scala guided some years ago.  I didn’t know about her sporty side or the book until one morning in the hotel at breakfast we looked outside to see her doing a lone exercise routine next to the swimming pool.  I can’t remember if she was holding a glass of champagne too.

But it’s a mark of her influence in wine circles that Michael Broadbent MW and in the 90s head, auctioneer and senior member of the wine department of Christie’s, wrote a forward to her book.  Amongst his remarks he also adds a tip on food matching and champagne:  ‘champagne is about the only wine which accompanies perfectly spicy oriental cuisine.’  So there.

But Broadbent’s connections with Joan’s knees-ups don’t end there.  In his Vintage Wine (2002), full of thousands of his tasting notes, he writes this about a Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle: ‘…high quality with a lovely creamy flavour.  Last noted in the company of Joan Oliphant-Fraser who exercies in a body stocking and consumes champagne with equal vigour.  At the Café Royal, London, Jan 1995. ****’

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