Yes, We Have Champagne

Haskell's
81 S. Ninth St., Mpls.; (612) 333-2434
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday till 10:00 p.m.

Hennepin-Lake Liquor Store
1200 W. Lake St., Mpls.; (612) 825-4411
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Friday-Saturday till 10:00 p.m.

Michael Dvorak

Surdyk's
303 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; (612) 379-3232
Hours: Monday-Thursday 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday-Saturday till 10:00 p.m.

Thomas Liquors
1941 Grand Ave., St. Paul; (651) 699-1860
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday-Saturday till 10:00 p.m.

Looking back, digging my Y2K bunker was definitely the easy part. I did it with the power of squirrels--those little guys in Loring Park are stronger and have a lot more time on their hands than you might think. All I really had to do was buy them some espressos from Dunn Bros. and treat them to the occasional massage at Spalon Montage, and they were not only willing, they were eager to hollow out a space about 30 squirrels wide and 90 long.

Figuring out what to put inside was trickier. The Web sites were all never-spoil ham, waterproof matches, hand-crank this and solar-powered that. But all I really wanted was champagne, and champagne-style sparklers from the West Coast. I wanted Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill for a pillow, a case of Roederer L'Ermitage for a footstool, the walls lined with Perrier-Jouët, the one in the flower bottle. After all, if society was going to crumble, I might as well get good and tipsy with my squirrel friends.

And then, just like that, I found out that it was all for naught. "If you believed what you read in February and March, you'd have thought that if you wanted to drink something sparkling at the millennium you'd be pouring seltzer into white wine," says Ted Farrell, manager at the downtown Minneapolis Haskell's. "But here it is and yes, yes, yes, there is champagne--and no, no, no, the sky is not falling."

Farrell, who was busy putting together an order for delivery to a customer's private plane when I spoke to him, says the downtown Haskell's has, in fact, run out of a few specific brands and vintages, but that happens every year. At the moment there's no Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill or Louis Roederer Cristal--the premium vintage champagne only made in years when Roederer judges its grapes to be especially fabulous.

But like every major retailer I spoke with, Farrell also has scads of very nice champagne left in a variety of price ranges. A few days before Christmas, Haskell's offered Perrier-Jouët nonvintage at $29.99; Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne for $109.99; special millennium packages of Gosset with a complimentary watch ($29.99); and a few of those magnificent, multiliter bottles that fill champagne lovers' dreams: "We have four or five nine-liter bottles," Farrell announces. "There's also a big, bad dog of a 15-liter Gosset for $1,300--a whole lot of party right there."

If you've never heard of Gosset (pronounced Gah-say), you're not alone. "It's one of the better-selling champagnes in Europe," Farrell explains. "It just never got a chance here, because Americans tend to be very label-loyal about their champagne." So will they sell a $1,300 bottle--even if it's from a winery that has been going strong since 1584--without name recognition? "We will definitely sell it," says Farrell. "We just had two six-liter bottles of Cristal out here, at $2,000 each. We didn't even put them on display. We just let our 20 best customers know--and out they went."

But how does a 15-liter behemoth just go? Do you throw it in the back of your station wagon? ("Pretty much," Farrell says.) And how do you chill it? In the bathtub? "Get a garbage can or something," Farrell advises, adding: "You definitely need a strong arm to pour that out. It's not something you just pass around the table."

"I definitely wouldn't want to stand in front of the cork," laughs Phil Colich, owner of Uptown's Hennepin-Lake liquors. As luck would have it, Colich has gotten his hands on another one of those ultrarare six-liter bottles of Cristal (only 2,000 were made), and he's auctioning it off. Those six-liters, by the way, are called Methuselahs; nine liters is a Salmanazar, and 15 liters is a Nebuchadnezzar. For more champagne trivia--did you know that there are 49 million bubbles in an average bottle?--check www.moet.com.

Right now, Colich points out, Cristal Methuselahs are selling on eBay for $6,500 to $9,000. "But our latest bid is only $5,000. A bargain, right?" Incomparable, in fact--unless you happen to be among the folks behind the quarter-of-a-million champagne heist that cleared out a West L.A. wine shop November 15. The thieves nabbed 65 cases of 1990 Cristal as well as 3 Cristal Jeroboams (three-liter bottles). Watch out for them! If found, stop drinking and summon me immediately, by squirrel-gram!

Sadly, by the time this issue hits the street Colich's Cristal auction will be over. But there remain plenty of other reasons to drop by Hennepin-Lake: "I think this season is going to have the net effect of promoting some of the lesser-known champagnes," Colich says. "People will be forced to try them because the big names aren't available, and what they're going to discover is that some of these smaller producers make some excellent champagnes."

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