What You Need to Know About Champagne

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY TRAVELING VINEYARD ON DECEMBER 29, 2018

As long as I can remember, I’ve had an incredible passion for Champagne. Champagne was my very first experience with fine wine, and has become a regular part of my wine drinking. Champagne is not simply a bottle of bubbly wine, however …

What is Champagne?

Champagne is not a grape or a style, it is a geographical region in northern France. In order for a wine to be called Champagne, it must come from this region, and it must adhere to various rules and laws that include specific growing conditions to its wine making technique.

Champagne must be made in the Methode Champenoise, or Méthode Traditionelle (Traditional Method). This is a very intricate and time consuming wine making process that involves a second fermentation in the very bottle it will later be sold in. This can often, in part, account for the hefty prices many bottles of Champagne command.

How Do You Properly Store Champagne?

As with all wine, you want to store your bottles of Champagne away from bright or artificial light and maintain a consistent and cool temperature (ideally 44-50 degrees F). Long term storage should be with the bottles on their sides in a wine rack or in a wine cellar.

What’s the Best Way to “Pop” the Cork?

Although the loud POP sound of a bottle of Champagne is synonymous with celebration, it is not the proper and safe way to open your bubbly. The first step is to remove the foil, then to loosen the wine cage (this should take 6 twists of the wire tab). Next, drape a towel or cloth over the cork and cage, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and away from yourself and others, and while firmly holding the cork in place, slowly twist the bottle from its base. You want a very soft “pop” of the cork into your hands.

How to Serve Champagne

There are various shapes of glassware in which to serve your Champagne, such as a flute (tall and narrow) or a coupe (wide and shallow), or even various white wine glasses. The depth of a glass can really influence the aromatic release of a sparkling wine. There is much controversy about which shape is best, so my advice is to try different glasses and choose your favorite. My personal favorite is a traditional Champagne flute, simply for the aesthetics and the ability to see the bubbles dancing to the top of the glass. To me, this is a symbol of celebration.

How to Pair Champagne

When we think of Champagne, we think of celebration and decadence. Caviar, smoked salmon, exquisite French cheese—each of these are a match made in heaven with a beautiful glass of Champagne. As someone who enjoys Champagne on a regular, non-celebratory basis, these luxurious foods simply aren’t always on my menu. One incredibly delicious everyday pairing is, believe it or not, French fries! There isn’t a single other wine this New Englander would rather pair with freshly fried fish and chips than a glass of Champagne. Fresh fried seafood, goat cheese, fish tacos, fresh strawberries, even deviled eggs are simple everyday pairings that are sure to enhance the Champagne experience. Shellfish, such as shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, and lobster are other delicious dinner options. High acid, salt, and fat content in your food pairings will be sure to pair wonderfully with the high acid content of your Champagne. Cheers!

Choosing the Right Glassware for Your Wine

I was once one of the skeptics who didn’t entirely believe that glassware made a significant difference when it came to drinking wine, that is until I put it to the test myself. I took two wine glasses of the same shape and size, one Riedel crystal glass, and one from the dollar store. I poured the same wine in both glasses and began to explore. I was absolutely amazed at the difference. The aromas were noticeably different in each. The dollar store glass gave off a somewhat chalky odor, overpowering the delicate fruit and earthy aromas of the wine, where the crystal glass sent all of those aromas directly to the nose. From first smell, I was a believer. Then, I sipped the wine from each glass, and once again, my world was changed. The aromas flowed on the palate in just the right spots from the crystal glass, where as in the dollar store glass, the wine just sort of landed flatly on the palate. I didn’t understand the hows and whys, but I knew glassware absolutely made a huge difference.

This fall, I was fortunate to attend a seminar with Maximilian Riedel, glassmaker and 11th generation CEO of Riedel crystal glassware. We were presented with five different handcrafted Riedel crystal glasses: Cabernet Sauvignon, oaked Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and basic white wine. The sizes and shapes of each glass were noticeably different, but each one was thin, light, and incredibly beautiful. Over the course of two hours, Mr. Riedel led us through one of the most fascinating seminars I have ever attended, sampling some very high-quality wines in each glass. We’d go back and forth between glass, smelling and tasting, seeing for ourselves how the delicate nuances of each wine was either enhanced or dulled, depending on the glass it was served in. I left absolutely amazed. I was even more thrilled when Mr. Riedel announced each attendee would be able to take the glasses we used at the seminar home with us! That collection is now my prized glassware that I use when I want to truly taste a wine to its fullest.

Glassware makes a huge difference in your wine tasting experience. The way a glass is shaped can direct its aromas to the nose properly, and it can cause the wine to flow on the perfect spot on the palate, almost like magic. You don’t need to spend a fortune on glassware to enjoy your wine, but investing in a set of moderate or high-quality glassware, even if just for special occasions, will truly enhance your appreciation and ability to taste the nuances of a wine. Neither do you need a different glass for each varietal. Although they are available and are crafted to enhance each specific varietal, you can achieve a similar effect with basic glasses. For instance, I serve my white wines in a differently shaped glass than my red wines. I serve my oaked Chardonnays in a differently shaped glass than my Rieslings, and I serve my Pinot Noirs in a differently shaped glass than my Cabernet Sauvignons. Each wine is so unique in its aromatics and texture, and a specifically crafted glass for each truly brings out the best. For every day consumption, however, I suggest having two different glasses—one for whites and one for reds.

How to Choose the Right Glassware

In general, red wines are bigger and bolder than white wines, and these require a glass with a bigger bowl to allow the aromas and flavors to be expressed to the fullest potential. The smaller bowl of a white wine glass helps to preserve the aromatics and floral aromas. This simple rule will elevate your wine experience. The stem on your glass matters, too. Although stemless glasses are attractive and popular, the stem of a glass plays an important role in maintaining the temperature of your wine. Temperature is extremely important in the aroma, flavor, and texture expression of a wine. Holding a wine glass by the bowl itself, and not the stem, can easily change the temperature of the wine in your glass.

Next time you’re serving wine to friends and family, check your cabinet and be sure you’re using the right glassware for your wine!

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com
vinoislife.com

Explore the World of Bubbly!

Originally published in South Shore Senior News, December 5, 2018

2019 is upon us, and ringing in the new year by toasting to family, friends, and new possibilities with bubbly is a tradition many of us partake in. Sparkling wines are my absolute favorite style, not just for special occasions, but even for any random weekday lunch with friends. Why save the celebration for holidays when we can celebrate each day? Where does one begin, and what is the difference between the world’s sparkling wines?

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Champagne

The word Champagne has become synonymous with sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine should and can be accurately called Champagne. Champagne is not a wine, and it is not a grape. It is a region of France known for some of the world’s best sparkling wines. In order to be called Champagne, a wine must come from the Champagne region. Champagne is made from any combination of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The Méthode Champenoise (also known as the Traditional Method) is the winemaking method followed in Champagne, which includes a second fermentation in the very bottle in which it will be sold. This can be very time consuming and laborious, which is often partly responsible for the hefty price tag on many Champagnes. Champagnes are aged in such a way that the resulting wines give a creamy, bready, brioche flavor in the glass. Champagne is not where the world of bubbly ends, however. In fact, you can find a plethora of other sparkling wines from other regions of France, which are labeled as Crémant.

Prosecco

Prosecco is Italy’s famous bubbly. Prosecco is produced in northeastern Italy, specifically the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine regions, that uses mainly the Glera grape to produce Champagne’s Italian cousin. A totally different winemaking style than used in Champagne, Prosecco tends to be fresher tasting with more fruit, less brioche. Proseccos can come in a variety of sweetness/dryness levels to please every palate. Prosecco’s price tag is equally as appealing, as you can easily find delicious Proseccos for under $15 a bottle.

Cava

Cava is the well known Spanish sparkling wine that can be made from a combination of grapes, most commonly Xarel.lo, Macabeo, Paralleda, and Chardonnay. Cava can be found in a wide range of sweetness levels, although Brut is most common in the mass market. It can also be found in a variety of quality levels, although compared to their counterparts from Champagne, are incredibly affordable. Cava provides the drinker with a balance of fresh fruit and subtle brioche.

Excellent sparkling wines are made all over the world from all kinds of grapes, resulting in a variety of styles (white, red, and rose), in every sweetness level, and available in every price range imaginable. The fun is in celebrating special occasions with something new. Perhaps this year leave the $10 bottle of Korbel on the rack and grab something new and exciting that will leave a lasting memory.

Cheers to 2019!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

A Cookie Swap Wine Tasting

Today is National Cookie Day! Yes, there’s truly a day for everything. Although if there was the perfect time to have a designated cookie day, this time of year is definitely it. Over the past several years, I have conducted several cookie swap themed in-home wine tasting events, and this year was no exception.

My fabulous host and multi-time in-home tasting attendee Ameera hosted a cookie swap tasting in celebration of her 30th birthday. The great thing about a cookie swap (besides the obvious) is that every guest gets to contribute and bring their favorite cookies to share. As the Wine Educator, I choose which wines I will bring to the tasting based upon the cookies everyone has offered to bake and bring.

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It’s certainly fun to apply my pairing knowledge and predict what I know (or at least am fairly certain) will be a great match, which cookies will be delicious with which wines, but it’s even more fun to see my dozen or more wine loving guests experiment with the flavors and come up with new and unpredictable pairings. We pleasantly found the following are fabulous together:

Oatmeal cookies with coconut with Chardonnay.
Gingerbread cookies with Viognier.
Caramel Apple Pie cookies with both Viognier and Chardonnay.
Dark chocolate raspberry cookies with Zinfandel (probably my all time fave!)
Peanut butter blossoms with Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Dark chocolate peppermint with Malbec (this also pairs amazingly with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah).
Chocolate chip cookies with pretty much any red wine, both dry and sweet.

In previous cookie swap events, I have been been able to determine some general rules when it comes to pairing wine and cookies. That being said, when it comes to wine, there never seems to be one final answer, and all rules are meant to be broken. For instance, I assumed snickerdoodles would be much too sweet and sugary to pair well with an oaked Chardonnay, but much to my surprise, it was a delightful pairing. Generally speaking, the sweeter the cookie, the sweeter the wine. Sugar cookies and frosted cookies should pair nicely with semi sweet and sweet wines. Chocolate cookies with red wines is another almost sure bet. Lemon cookies, if not heavily glazed and not too sweet, seem to pair lovely with off dry and drier whites, especially those whites with citrus and/or lemon notes.

I was asked to create the pairing suggestions for your cookie swaps based upon wine category. You will find this fantastic chart designed by our design team below. But remember… rules are meant to be broken, and you might find additional matches that you find simply delicious. Happy pairing!

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com