Many people see Champagne as solely a celebratory drink, to toast with at weddings or at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Not Ariel Arce. “It’s just wine that has bubbles in it,” says the New York City native and owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor, a colorful, 40-seat space in Greenwich Village with gold-accented furniture and chandeliers—and some 250 bottles on the menu. “Unfortunately, price point and branding has forced this category into a space that feels unapproachable.”
Alinea Group in Chicago, sees it as more than just an expensive indulgence. At Air’s, which opened 20 months ago to rave reviews, she spotlights smaller, “grower” Champagne producers rather than just the big established houses, and also hosts special events—everything from oyster pairings to “pong” tournaments—to keep the atmosphere social. (You’ll find a similar vibe at her other project, Tokyo Record Bar, which has an izakaya-style menu and sake-infused cocktails.)Arce, who fell in love with Champagne while working for Grant Achatz’s
In a conversation with Watch!, Arce shared why Champagne is finally ready to be poured year-round.
What was your first memorable glass of bubbly?
Grant Achatz’s Champagne of choice was Krug, and I remember getting this taste at the end of the bottle, and not really understanding it—why does it cost this much money and why is it so special? It started me on this crazy rabbit hole. Whenever I had a little bit of money I would buy something to try to understand the different styles.
Who is coming to Air’s?
Champagne is not one demographic of consumer. We get a bunch of girls who want to spend no more than $35 on a bottle, and we get people who order the most expensive thing on the wine list. There are total novices, industry types, and those who are just getting hooked on Champagne and are willing to explore. They come back one or two times a week.
Why do people think of champagne as a celebratory drink?
Historically, Champagne was always in competition with Burgundy and Bordeaux. Originally, the region was making still wine, but when it began focusing on sparkling it had to differentiate itself. To get attention, the producers had to think—were the kings and queens drinking it? All of a sudden it becomes a beverage that was put on a pedestal. They start using it at banquets and celebrating the aspirational life. When Champagne becomes dominated by brands, they have to have a marketing strategy—and all of a sudden it is about luxury.
Why did you open Air’s?
Wine is a funny thing. Everyone wants to follow trends and [get] in on what’s cool. Our mission is to show a broad spectrum of Champagne and sparkling wine. We’ll never have the entry level wines from Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, because that’s what the majority of our customer knows. We want to open people’s minds to another style and focus on small production grower Champagnes that are more affordable.
Any favorite, under-the-radar producers?
Pierre Péters, Vilmart & Cie, Chartogne-Taillet. Those are your classical, well-known growers who are setting the standard. Then you have the smaller, niche-y producers, like Marguet and Jacques Lassaigne.
What are the best food pairings with Champagne?
For me, I think Asian non-spicy cuisine. Spicy and sparkling is not always the best. Japanese and Champagne is a natural fit. Seafood in general. I would have a pizza and burger any day, and Champagne with any of that.
Is there an unsung sparkling wine region that people don’t know about?
You have the big “C,” Champagne, and the little c of cremant [sparkling wines made elsewhere in France in the méthode champenoise]. There are some rad Greek and Portuguese sparkling wines, and great stuff in California, Oregon, even Illinois. This category is the most fun. It’s growing, because everyone wants to make sparkling wine.
Related Video: How to Open a Champagne Bottle
Header image courtesy of Noah Fecks.