This interview with James Tidwell, Master Sommelier was published as one of my columns in Four Seasons Resorts Magazine. James has lots of terrific tips …
Champagne is the ultimate drink of celebration, especially at weddings, according to James Tidwell, Master Sommelier at Four Seasons’ Cafe on the Green in Las Colinas, Texas. “Champagne toasts many milestones in life,” Tidwell says, “but one of the most important is the dedication of two people to spend a life together.” We asked Tidwell for his insights on how champagne makes a wedding more memorable at the resort.
James Tidwell, Master Sommelier
How do you personalize the Champagne service for couples celebrating their wedding at your resort?
We make the champagne service different in several ways. For example, we’ll drop an edible silver-coated jordan almond in each flute of champagne. The bubbles cause the silver-leaf to fleck off the almond gradually and float through the glass. It makes the champagne more sparkling, festive and beautiful.
We also encourage the couple to have a champagne cocktail bar for their guests where we can offer them different drinks using fresh fruit purees or mixers with the bubbly. It broadens the range and appeal of the drinks. Often the puree will match the bride’s color scheme, further personalizing the service.
How are wedding events themselves different at your resort?
Many couples opt for a “progressive wedding”: a series of events throughout the day that moves from one location to another. For example, it might start with a pre-ceremony champagne reception for just the bridal party in the resort, then move out to the gorgeous event lawn overlooking the golf course for the ceremony itself.
This might be followed by all the guests moving inside to a spectacularly decorated dining room for dinner with lush bouquets of flowers, crisp linens and opulent table settings. Finally, they move into a club – or lounge-inspired dance party for cake, desserts and dancing. This progressive style of events keeps the guests guessing what’s next and the energy and excitement high. They never want to leave because they wonder what they might miss if they do.
What really impresses your guests?
Anticipatory service: Knowing what guests need or want before they do themselves, and then providing it for them. Often, it’s the small things that make a big difference. We’ve come to the last-minute rescue of a number of brides and grooms who have experienced “wardrobe issues,” from ripped dresses and popped buttons, to stained shirts and wrinkled tuxedos. The wedding party is always surprised by the speed and quality of our repair work.
At a dinner one evening, some members of a wedding party were debating whether one gentleman needed a tie for the reception. The server asked the manager of hotel’s boutique to open after-hours so that he could put together a selection of ties from which the gentleman could choose. The selected tie was then delivered to the his room while the guests finished their meal.
With our brides, we go through a 14-page questionnaire pertaining to every aspect of her wedding. We want to develop a complete picture of her wedding, including events not happening at our resort. Often guests will call us for directions, whether or not a particular event is taking place here and we want to be prepared with maps and tips at the concierge.
At a recent wedding, I got to know the parents of the couple. Upon learning that they were going to Costa Rica for a vacation after the ceremony, I contacted the resort and had a bottle of the father’s scotch placed in the room. They couldn’t stop talking about this gesture when they returned to our resort.
What’s your own most memorable Champagne experience?
The experience of any wine is as much about context as it is about the wine itself. Intimate moments and grand occasions can provide equally memorable experiences. Early in our relationship, my girlfriend and I were cooking at home one evening. I had opened two bottles of champagne, Bollinger Grande Année 1989 and Salon Blanc de Blancs 1999, so we could sip on the bubbly while preparing the meal.
We are both Culinary Institute of America graduates and Master Sommeliers, so we enjoy cooking and drinking wine. We were having a great time talking and laughing. The unfolding of the layers of flavor in the champagnes seemed to echo the unfolding of our relationship, as we shared the layers of memories of our lives together. I would not trade that experience for any other.
Champagne Tips and Toasts
1. We pre-pour the champagne flutes and present them to guests on silver trays to add elegance to the service. Champagne is best served at approximately 45oF. However, we chill it slightly lower than that so the wine comes to the right temperature on the tray as it is served.
2. We usually serve champagne as guests arrive. Toasts come later in the festivities, and at that point we serve a fresh glass.
3. My advice is to keep the toast to reasonable length, express heartfelt emotion, and make it accessible to everyone without insider references. With the exception of the best man, maid of honor and father of the bride, the majority of toasts should be reserved for the rehearsal dinner. The focus of the wedding reception is for the guests to dine, drink and dance, not sit through a thousand speeches.
Three champagnes to toast your new life together
There are many excellent champagnes, both for weddings and other celebrations. On our wine list, I try to offer a variety of styles, vintages, prices, regions, producers and sizes. I also change the list often to provide a fresh experience for regular guests.
Billecart-Salmon Rosé Brut is an elegant wine, typical of the Billecart-Salmon house style. It has beautiful finesse and a delicate red berry fragrance. Well-defined, and meticulously made, this bubbly has impeccable balance. Beets with goat cheese bring out the ripe red fruit character of this wine, while the tartness of the goat cheese matches its crispness. Ahi tuna tartare also goes well because its rich flavors need the palate-cleansing bubbles of champagne, especially rosé.
Bollinger Grande Année Brut is more full-bodied than the Billecart-Salmon; it’s all about richness and depth. Both wines are complex, but Bollinger has a toastiness that develops with age. The riper, more forward fruit, makes this a powerful, bold wine. Roasted veal chop, which has caramelized qualities, matches the toastiness of Bollinger, especially when the wine has some age. Bollinger’s richer style allows the wine to stand up to the veal. Pasta with vegetables, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese has the savory, rich and caramelized flavors that also can be found in the Bollinger. The mushrooms tie the wine and dish together with earthy, savory flavors and firm texture.
Krug Clos du Mesnil Brut Blanc de Blancs is one of the greatest of all champagnes. The wine is a standard bearer, not only for the Blanc de Blancs style of all chardonnay grapes in the blend, but also for all of Champagne. The wine is produced only in exceptional vintages. This wine perfectly balances fruit and minerality; power and finesse; and freshness with toasty, nutty notes. Few wines are as long-lived and sumptuous. This is the sparkler for those who want to spare no expense, and who want to taste what is truly amongst the finest products of any kind in the world.
Paella has briny mineral qualities that bring out the mineral notes in the Krug. The nutty, toasty notes of the wine play to the saffron and rice of the dish. And, the wine cleanses the palate with bubbles. Trout amandine also has the bread flavors from a light dusting with flour and nutty notes from the almonds. These flavors mesh well with the powerful aspect of Krug. The delicate trout and refined sauce match the finesse aspect of Krug.