October is over, and soon holiday decorations will be lining the shelves. Christmas trees have been on sale at a local super store here now for over four weeks, and orders for real trees are being accepted by the suppliers on island as we speak! Crazy, right?
It’s time to start thinking about parties, celebrations, and enjoying the finer things in life, like the ever-classic Champagne. One of our very good friends here on island is originally from Reims, France (within the Champagne region). And after years of indulging in the sophisticated beverage and gaining a few tips from our dear friend, we’ve both come to adore the bubbly beverage.
where it’s made
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Confusing maybe, but all Champagne comes from one area in France called Champagne. Easy, right?
Sparkling wine, however, comes from all over the world. Here’s a look into a few of the more popular ones and how they differ from each other.
Champagne – made in Champagne, France with three grapes, namely, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, and blended together using the Champenoise method.
Cremant – mostly produced in other parts of France with lower amounts of carbon dioxide.
Cava – a Spanish sparkler that uses the Champenoise method, but with different grapes than Champagne.
Asti – a sweet Italian sparkling wine.
Prosecco – Italian sparkling wine originally produced in Prosecco, Italy made with Glera grapes that comes in light or full sparkling versions.
how sweet is my Champagne
Often times those who don’t care for Champagne find it either too sweet or too dry. But there are actually several different kinds of sparkling wine and one of the easiest ways to find one that fits your tastes is to pick a wine based on the amount of sugar. Although you may have to search the label to find it, the amount of sugar is almost always listed somewhere on the bottle. And if you’re not sure when you’re dining out, now that you have the terminology, ask the sommelier!
In increasing amounts of sugar shown in each glass above, here are the varying levels of dryness:
- Brut Nature or Brut Zero
- Extra Brut or Ultra Brut
- Extra Dry or Extra Sec
- Dry or Sec
- Sweet or Doux (not pictured)
Although Champagne and sparkling wine might be used mostly for a celebratory toast, they do pair wonderfully with all different types of food. Remembering the varying sugar levels from above is really all you need to create a fantastic Champagne/food pairing.
Our first introduction to Champagne pairing? Of course, it was from Pretty Woman. You remember, right?
Edward: “Why don’t you try a strawberry.” Vivian: “Why?” Edward: “It brings out the flavor of the Champagne.” Vivian: “Oh, groovy.”
Sweet goes with sweet! Easy enough to remember. When you’re eating sweet desserts, they go best with sweet or doux sparkling wines, like an Asti.
berries, dark chocolate, and desserts
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, dark chocolate, and not too sweet desserts (e.g. pound cake, lemon tarts) pair wonderfully with dry or demi-sec sparkling wines.
cheeses, nuts, popcorn, chips, light pastas or risotto, mushroom dishes, seafood
Brut is an incredibly versatile sparkling wine. If you’re ever unsure of what to select, choose the brut. It’s the most popular of the group, and as you can see from the list of food items, it goes with so many things.
a few sparklers to try
Mumm Napa Cuvee M – California – ($17). Strawberry components with plenty of citrus nuances go hand in hand with the lively acidity and overall elegant style and structure of this well-priced bubbly from Napa Valley.
Roederer Estate Brut – California – ($20). The warm scents of spice-laden, baked apple pie dominate the nose of the Roederer Estate Brut sparkling wine. A medium-bodied lively mix of pear, citrus, and cherry pie fruit.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Cuvee – France – ($40). A beautiful bubbly with the right mix of yeasty notes and zesty citrus, well managed vibrant fruit and smoky minerality, engaging luxury and practical accessibility all wrapped up into a single bottle of celebration. It also goes quite well with polo!
Perrier Jouet “Grand Brut” Champagne – France – ($40). Always elegant, well-priced, and brimming over with a heady mix of green apple, citrus, and peach generously enveloped in toasty, fresh baked bread nuances, this Grand Brut from Perrier-Jouet is a go-to bottle for anything calling for celebration.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne – France – ($55). Reasonably priced and full of fragrant flavor! Check out the stone fruit and nutty note on the palate and the glittering combination of minerality and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.
Pol Roger Brut – France – ($60). A stunning rendition of warm baking spice, sweet florals, and undeniable citrus scents on the nose.
Dom Perignon Vintage 2003 Champagne – France – ($160). The bouquet sparkles with delicate fresh violets in a setting of white peaches. The soft delicate flavours continue while the senses are tickled by the most delicate of fine bubbles.
Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2006 – France – ($250). A favorite among our French friends, the palate is enveloped by this depth of juicy, creamy, silky fruit, which soon makes way for a pure, sharp, graceful freshness. A transition follows from ripe fruit to a clear, light, delicate environment. Ripeness, softness and concentration arise from freshness and mineral quality, transforming the ripe fruit into a slightly sharp citrus flavor; the warmer notes make way for flowers, citrus zests and nuts.
the do’s and don’ts of Champagne
A few more helpful tips:
keep it simple
As with any good liquor, here’s the most important rule: IF YOU SPEND, DO NOT BLEND. Forget the ice, orange juice, or whatever else might come to mind. If you are sipping on an expensive bottle of Champagne, don’t mix it with anything. Simply, drink it straight.
This is one of our favorite tips, because it means we get to open it right away: Unless you have a fantastic wine cellar (and in that case, mind if we stop by?), don’t store Champagne. Avoid excessive heat, which spoils the grapes, and excessive cold, which reduces the fizz. Honestly, it’s best to just drink it right away.
keep it chilled
Probably pretty obvious, but it’s best served chilled. How to chill quickly?
- Wrap a wet paper towel around it and place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Don’t forget about it though!!!
- Or place the bottle, ice and some water in an ice bucket and add a tablespoon of salt. The salt lowers the freezing point of the water and will chill the bottle in 5-10 minutes.
don’t make a sound
Do not pop the cork. What?! But where’s the fun in that, you might ask? Firstly, it can make the Champagne flat, because it reduces the carbon dioxide. Secondly, and more importantly, you risk wasting some of the Champagne if it spills over! And if you’ve spent a pretty penny on a lovely bottle, wasting it would be so sad.
- Twist the bottle, not the cork when opening the bottle. And when you’re near the end, twist slowly.
serve it up
Serving in a flute glass creates a smaller surface area, which keeps the bubbles longer. But the vintage Champagne coupe is making a comeback and is definitely the more glamorous way to drink Champagne. Legend has it that the coupe is modeled after the perfect breast. Whether or not those legends (re: fantasies) are true, we don’t know. But here’s one that is most certainly modeled after a woman’s breast – that woman being Kate Moss.
never be without
Finally, and sometimes more important than rule #1 above: always, always keep a bottle in the fridge. There will always be a moment worth celebrating!
Are you a Champagne drinker? What’s your favorite celebratory drink?