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How to Choose and Enjoy Champagne

Updated on August 18, 2013

Simply put, you could say Champagne is just a wine with bubbles. But creating those bubbles takes a lot of skill and time. Legend has it that when Dom Perignon, the French Monk credited with creating Champagne first tasted the sparkling wine, he called to his fellow monks, "I'm drinking stars!" ... Since then, Champagne has become the ultimate celebratory drink. Champagne has ushered in each New Year for centuries and has toasted wedded couples equally as long. What would New Years Eve be without Champagne? To learn how to choose and enjoy Champagne, follow these tips.

Champagne or Sparkling Wine

Champagne is sparkling wine, but sparkling wine is not champagne. To be called, "Champagne," the grapes and the process that produce it must come from the Champagne region of France. Even though the process may be the same, anything that is produced anywhere else must be called, "Sparkling Wine." Champagne and sparkling wine can be made from several grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, called, "Blanc de Blanc," and Pinot Noir, which is the premiere red grape of Burgundy. The color of champagne is not determined by the color of the grape juice, which is clear, but the color of the grape skin. Rose, or pink champagne, is made by allowing the skin of the Pinot Noir grape to impart a small amount of color, hence the pink color. However, most of the finest champagnes come from the Pinot Noir grape, but the skins are not allowed to be in contact with the juice and add color to the champagne. In general, Champagne is more expensive than sparkling wine.

Cristal vintage
Cristal vintage
Veuve Clicquot  non-vintage
Veuve Clicquot non-vintage

Vintage or Non-Vintage

When purchasing champagne, be aware that most champagne produced today is "Non-vintage", meaning it is a blend of grapes from multiple vintages, or years, and is meant to be consumed upon release. When the conditions of a particular vintage are favorable, some producers will make a "Vintage" wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from that vintage year. The top Champagne producers such as, Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal, will age their vintage champagne for five to seven years for further development before release. Depending on the vintage and production, these champagnes will command very high prices and are always more expensive than non-vintage. Vintage champagnes from top producers can be held for ten or more years if they are stored properly. Some very good non-vintage champagnes are, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsiek, Mumms and Moet Chandon. Some very good sparkling wines are, Domaine Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, and Piper Sonoma, all from California.

Asti Spumante
Asti Spumante

Driest to Sweetest

Depending on your taste, your choice of Champagne or sparkling wine can run from the driest, which is, "Brut," to the sweetest, which is, "Doux," meaning sweet. There are other levels in between, such as, "Extra Dry," which is not as dry as Brut, and "Demi-Sec," or semi-sweet. Asti Spumante, an Italian sparkling wine, is very sweet. All of the premiere vintage champagnes such as, Dom Perignon, Cristal, Krug, etc. are Brut.

Champagne Flute
Champagne Flute

The Proper Glass

When buying champagne glasses do not consider the kind seen in old movies or the ones offered in party stores and used at wedding receptions. These glasses are totally ill suited for drinking champagne since they have a shallow body and a very large rim, which dissipates the bubbles and makes the champagne go flat quickly. These glasses are the complete opposite of what a champagne glass should be. A champagne glass, called a, "flute," is tall and thin and made of crystal, with a very narrow rim or lip that's designed to concentrate the champagne's bubbles in the glass, not allowing it to become flat quickly. It has a deep, but small pocket cut into the bottom of the glass, which allows a steady stream of small bubbles to rise, keeping it effervescent longer. A sign of a very good champagne is small bubbles.

Popping the Cork

You should have chilled the champagne or sparkling wine to around 45 degrees farenheit before you serve it. Putting it in the refrigerator for several hours should do the trick. The proper way to remove the cork from a champagne bottle is to carefully remove the metal cage around the cork, and holding the bottle with a towel in one hand, and gripping the cork in the other, twist the bottle and not the cork until it pops out. Obviously, you should do this while pointing the bottle in a safe direction.

Tasting

Pour the champagne or sparkling wine into the glass without creating too much foam. Gently pour the champagne down the side of the glass and not directly down the center. This will minimize the foam and keep the bubbles lasting longer. Now take in the aroma and let the bubbles tickle your nose, then sip and let the champagne sit on your tongue for a few seconds to experience its full flavor. Keep in mind the wonderful versatility of champagne if you're having it with food. It is the only wine that pairs well with almost any type of dish.

Champagne stopper
Champagne stopper

Keeping it Fresh

You can now keep the champagne lasting longer with a champagne stopper pictured here. Using this device will allow you to keep any left-over champagne in the refrigerator for a couple of days without having it go flat.

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