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!

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