Champagne, Xerox, and Kleenex

antonomasia [ahn-TAH-noh-MAY-zee'ah], the use of a proper name to express a general idea, as in calling an orator a Cicero, a wise judge a Daniel (OED, online edition).

Above: An unforgettable bottle of 1996 Billecart-Salmon that I shared last year with Jayne and Jon at Spago in Beverly Hills. We weren’t celebrating anything. But we were being treated by a famous winemaker.

In this week’s semiotic treatment of Champagne, we neglected to address one of the most fascinating semiotic implications of the lemma Champagne (at least, one of the most fascinating to me).

The term Champagne is a wonderful example of the literary figure antonomasia, from the Greek ἀντί (anti, meaning instead or against) and ὄνομα (onoma, meaning name), whereby a proper name is used to denote a general idea, in this case, sparkling wine.

Above: A bottle of Bollinger that we popped to celebrate pulling the first mix from Nous Non Plus’s 2009 release Ménagerie. The track? “Bollinger” (click to listen)! A song about our favorite Champagne and official band beverage. (We are a “French” band, after all, n’est pas?)

Other examples that immediately come to mind: Xerox and Kleenex. Both are proper names, in fact, brand names, yet both have come to denote generic items, namely, photocopies and tissue paper.

Let’s face it: even though we wine professionals and enthusiasts strictly use the term (toponym and proper name) Champagne to denote sparkling wines sourced from the place and appellation, Champagne, 99% of the intelligent lifeforms in the world interpret it as any sparkling wine. In his 1953 editio princeps of With a Jug of Wine, for example, food and wine writer Morrison Wood casually and regularly makes reference to California champagne.

Above: A bottle of Initial by Anselme Selosse that Alfonso opened for me and Tracie B last year to celebrate my move to Texas. Perhaps more than any other, Selosse is the most coveted and illustrious brand of Champagne in the U.S. It’s not cheap but it’s worth every penny. Check out this great post, from earlier this year, by McDuff.

Just this weekend, I was reminded of this fact when Melvin C and I visited a Walmart in Orange, Texas in search of some Prosecco for Tracie B, and I was greeted by a “stack” (as we say in the biz) of André California Champagne (“the best selling brand of sparkling wine in the U.S.,” according to the Wiki).

Whatever you plan to drink tonight for your New Year’s celebration, Tracie B and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and serene 2010. Thanks for all the support and love in 2009!

Breaking news: this just in from Italy

Thanks are due to reader Elaine from Italy who identified the champagne-method Nerello Mascaelese by Murgo (Sicily).

Also just in from Italy…

According to the Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, when all is said and done, Italians will have spent Euro 2.7 billion on sausage (cotechino and zampone) and Italian sparkling wine (spumante). “Salmon, oysters, and caviar” were no match for the famed boiled sausages of Modena (both delicious, btw). Nor did Champagne, with a “a 66% drop in sales,” rival its Italian counterparts.

On that part, according to a press release issued by the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene e Conegliano Producers Association, Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia sent 60 “3-liter Jeroboams” of Prosecco to the staff of the “national radio and television stations.”

An early celebration of his upcoming governorship of the Veneto, no doubt.

Happy new year, everyone, everywhere!

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