My admiration for Karl Lambour of Constantia Glen (the tallest winemaker in the whole world, I suspect, and a very good one) has increased even further, along with my gratitude. On our new Forum, which I hope is going to prove a boon to more than me, he has supplied the answer to the first question (mine) – which was about the name for the little metal cap on top of the corks of sparkling wine bottles, the thing that stops the metal cage which holds the cork in place from biting into it. Many of these caps are most attractive little objects.

The “cage” itself I knew to be called a “muselet” – the French word for “muzzle”. And Karl says that the metal cap is called a “plaque de muselet”. Although I fancy myself as a competent Googler, I hadn’t been able to find this name – but now that I have it I have been able to find out a great deal about these little treasures (more than I wanted, to be quite frank) on the wonderful Web.

Have a look, if you’re interested, for example at the page devoted to “Plaquemusephilia” (the more French version of the Anglicised “placomusophilia”) by  John Holland on his comprehensive website about things champenois: (The animated image comes from that website.)

I can’t claim to be much of a placomusophile, but in a lazy sort of way, I’ve accumulated a hundred or so of these mostly pretty enamelled bits of tinkly metal over the years (while I’ve long since abandoned collecting wine labels). I hauled them out recently (they live in a very unceremonial plastic bag, where I put them after I realised that the Cape dampness was corroding them) because I had a few notable examples to add to the collection. More specifically  to the French part of it, the remnants of bottles of champagne – which constitutes about half of my little collection

It must be immediately confessed that not a single one of these plaques de muselet came off a bottle that I have paid for. I am not a bubbly freak by any means. At all price levels, it seems to me the most overpriced wine in the world. For a bottle costing R100, I reckon I could rather buy a bottle of still wine much superior to it; similarly, in most cases, for wines costing ten or twenty times that.

Some people love the stuff and are willing to pay outrageously for it – I merely like it, and am pleased and grateful when I’m invited to share the bottles of others. Which, as my little collection of plaques de muselet shows, happens quite often, I’m actually glad and grateful to say.

Particularly in the case of some of my latest additions. Last week I was privileged to be invited by sommelier Francis Krone to a smallish private dinner at the remarkable, superb Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg (I was hosted there overnight, so I feel able to unreservedly chuck those enthusiastic adjectives at it). The occasion – briefly put – was to celebrate with the head of Delamotte and Salon Champagnes the coming into South Africa of those two wines. They are to be brought in by Great Domaines, which already imports a startling array of the finest French wines, notably from Burgundy.

While the Delamottes are excellent, Champagne Salon is the big thing: It is one of the most expensive of champagnes (it’ll be about R2000 a bottle, I think) and one of the rarest, made only in up to about half the vintages of each decade – the lesser years, the grapes go into Delamotte. (Read more about it here, but the website is surprisingly and sadly pathetic and trivial.)

Most interestingly of all, Salon is only released when it is mature. The current release is 1997, which we tasted alongside the not-yet-released 1999 – director Didier Depond assured us that we were the “first in the world” to taste it (but he also said it wasn’t showing at its best after travelling from France in his luggage).

I’d only had Salon once before, and this evening of many bottles (we warmed up with various versions of Delamotte) was a revelation to me. I could say that it finally showed to me how wonderful and profound champagne could be – which is true, but my overwhelming impression was that Salon is a wine before it is a champagne. The fine, languid bubbles are a little bit extra on the side, just a shaping part of the exquisite flavours and length (after a few minutes of reminiscent savouring, suddenly notes of apricot arose in my mouth!)

I haven’t changed my opinion about the over-pricedness of champagne, even magnificent Salon – but I would say that, if I were very rich, I would buy it. And that I look forward with great hope to someone who is very rich given me a glass of it in the future.

Even more expensive was the Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 (a mere youngster!) served by the munificently generous hosts at Steenberg Estate earlier this week at the fine dinner which marked the release of the second vintage of their premier blend of sauvignon and semillon, the 2009 Magna Carta. That wine demands, and will get, further consideration later – but now just to note that Steenberg rightly felt it deserving of being framed by some of the world’s fine wines, including illustrious champagne.

The Cristal, which costs nearly 50% more than even Salon, is undoubtedly a brilliant wine – but unlike Salon (for me) on the same planet, the same continuum, as lesser stuff. And as far as its plaque de muselet goes, somewhat disappointing. Whereas Salon vintage-dates their plaques, Cristal has simply a generic Roederer one, which seems a bit shabby to me. Nonetheless it is a more than nice addition to my bagful.

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