Bring On The Bubbly
Not just for weddings and toasts anymore, nothing says “celebration” quite like a glass of Champagne.
Champagne. Here’s how to choose a wine worth toasting to. As if by reflection of the bubbly drink itself, champagne is certain to bring a little lively elegance to any occasion. Not to be saved for one or two special moments each year, drink this complex and delightful wine with anything from gourmet popcorn and chocolates to a perfectly seared porterhouse. Choosing the right match for your menu and mood is easy if you know the basics of variety and style. Read on for the details you need to find a sparkler you’ll love to sip.
Choosing Your Bottle
Key terms and considerations from our panel of experts.
THE PERFECT PICK
Variety: There are three types or varieties of Champagne: blanc de blancs, made only from white Chardonnay grapes; blanc de noirs, made from black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes; and rosé, made by adding a small amount of red wine to the otherwise white mix.
Vintage or non-vintage: Vintage Champagnes are made only from the grape harvest of a single year. More common (and less expensive) non-vintage Champagne is composed of more than one year’s harvest.
Producer: As you shop, you’ll find options from large producers or “Négociant Manipulants,” which produce Champagne from the grapes of many different growers, and grower-producers or “Récoltant Manipulants,” which produce Champagne from grapes grown in their own vineyards. Grower Champagnes often have a more “artisanal” quality.
Price: Champagne is the most tightly regulated, quality controlled type of French wine, so the good news is it’s hard to go wrong at almost any price. Non-vintage Champagnes are typically less expensive, as are grower products. A prestige cuvée is a vintner’s finest product and will cost more.
Flavor: Match the variety of Champagne to the food you’ll be eating. Crisp blanc de blancs are ideal apéritifs. Blancs de noirs go well with richer foods. Rosés complement meats nicely.
Ask the expert: In addition to the variety and dryness rating (see “Brut,” below), the area of origin of the Champagne can greatly influence its flavor profile. For example, Champagnes from the Côtes des Blancs area have a briny note that’s great with seafood. A good sommelier will be able to offer guidance based on those subtleties.
Storing: A high-quality bottle of champagne will improve over time, if stored in a consistently cool, dark place. If you don’t have such a space, buy Champagne closer to the time you intend to serve it and keep it in the refrigerator.
Chilling: Most champagne is served over-chilled, say our experts. To enjoy maximum flavor, place in an ice bucket filled with both water and ice cubes for about half an hour; serve at 51°F to 53°F.
Opening: Only open a chilled bottle. Open the wire guard, loosen the foil around the cork. Point the bottle away from people and valuables. Holding the cork with your hand, rotate the bottle, slowly easing the cork out until you hear a “pop.” Enjoy.
- TYPE OF WINE. At the top of the label will be the type of wine, in this case, Champagne.
- DATE OF VINTAGE. The label of a vintage Champagne will display the year of the harvest. But non-vintage Champagnes will not have a date.
- BRAND. The name of the house that made the Champagne.
- STYLE. Champagnes are described by their sugar content and corresponding taste. From driest to sweetest, you’ll find Brut Nature, Brut (the most common), Extra Sec, Sec, Demi Sec, Doux.
- CUVÉE. Name of the particular blend.
- TOWN OF ORIGIN. Champagne from different areas in the Champagne region can have very different flavors.
- BOTTLE SIZE. A standard bottle is 750 mL; a magnum is 1.5 L.
- ALCOHOL CONTENT. Described as a percentage by liquid volume.
Leslee Miller, Certified Sommelier of AMUSÉE WINE suggests a variety of irresistible options just right for any occasion or menu.
Le Mesnil ‘Sublime’ 2007 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, $65
A lovely sparkling wine with notes of peach and apricot and a long, supple finish.
Domaine des Baumard ‘Carte Corail Rosé’ Crémant de Loire, $27
A “stunner” for its price-point, the Loire Valley wine is light and lively with a bright peppery note.
Marc Hebrart ‘Cuvée de Reserve’ Brut NV, $55
Subtle notes of green apple, lime zest, and cherries mark this grower-style Champagne.
Gaston-Chiquet ‘Special Club Millesime’ Brut NV, $100
Thirst quenching and mouth filling; the wine fills the mouth with notes of baked apple tarte tatin.
Oumy Diaw, Champagne sommelier and consultant, THECHAMPAGNESOMMELIER.COM
Giles Fallowfield, award-winning Champagne expert and author, CHAMPAGNEGURU.CO.UK
Whitney Schubert, French Brand Manager, Polaner Selections, POLANERSELECTIONS.COM
Rob Rudolph, founder, New France Wine Company, NEWFRANCEWINE.NET