All that bubbles is not Champagne and although most people are familiar with the name many don’t know how it differs from traditional sparkling wine. Basically the first thing to know about Champagne is that it can only be made from grapes grown in a legally defined and protected geographical region (appellation) of France. It is usually made from certain grape varieties namely Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and there are strict guidelines concerning its manufacture. The most important difference between Champagne and sparkling wine is that Champers must go through a secondary in bottle fermentation process, which gives it its legendary fizz, thanks to the natural carbon dioxide gas produced.
Sparkling wines do not go through a secondary fermentation process and is instead made fizzy by the same style of CO2 injection that makes standard sodas fizzy. Thus you can have a sparkling wine which has regional flavour variations and theoretically at least can be made from any wine.
Given that even cheap Champagne costs a lot more than a comparable sparkling wine here are a few tips to ensure you get the most from your bottle.
The best way to chill champagne is in the refrigerator preferably putting it in a day or two at most before it is likely to be required. This should get it to the right temperature without over chilling which can affect its palette. Another way to serve it is by placing it in a champagne cooler about 30 minutes before serving. The cooler should be filled with equal parts ice and water.
Although it sounds obvious make sure that when popping the cork that it is pointed away from you or anyone else for that matter. A Cork in the eye will put a damper on any party (especially for the poor victim). The safest way to open the bottle is to use a cloth over the bottle and loosen the cork through it; after you have separated the wire protector of course. Keeping your thumb on top of the cork during this process will at least give you some warning of a projectile opening is ominous and once the wire is clear grip the cork and slowly turn the bottom of the bottle. This way the cork should remove without much if any spillage, however it it does pop for any reason don’t hold the bottle upright as this will encourage it to fountain out. Instead tilt the bottle on an angle which will soon stem the flow.
Choosing a Bottle
Apart from the obvious price consideration, there are the age of the champagne, colour and the dryness to consider.
Young champagne will have lots of bubbles while a more aged one will have less, so if the eye appeal of loads fine bead bubble streams are important to you then young Champagne it is. Vintage champagnes will have fewer bubbles but will usually have acquired a more rounded flavour which will suit a more discerning audience. Vintage Champagne will have a date on the label, indicating all the grapes used in its manufacture were picked in that same year. Non vintage champagne on the other hand is usually a mix of various years and grape types.
Champagne comes in traditional White and Rose, and although the rose is less popular it does look rather nice in some settings,
The label will also tell how dry the champagne is and this can be a little confusing as Dry is actually the sweetest version and this moves through the levels with there being Dry, Extra Dry, Brut & Extra Brut. If possible sample a little of each so you can familiarise yourself with the subtle differences before making a big purchase.
Although Champagne is sometimes served in Martini style glasses, the best way to serve it is in flutes as this narrower glass ensures the bubbles remain active for as long as possible.