How to Select Champagne and Sparkling Wine
I was switching TV channels when I ran across something that horrified me. Some hoity-toity reality show cast members were in a limo drinking Champagne out of plastic cups. It goes to show you money can buy you good Champagne, but obviously not taste. That led me to want to write a post on how to select Champagne and sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve or any celebration.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
It’s nearly countdown time to popping the cork and celebrating a new season. Before you head to the checkout with bubbly in hand, first decide if you’d like to celebrate with a bottle of Champagne or a bottle of “sparkling wine”.
Here’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. Champagne with a capital “C” can only come from the Champagne region in France located about 90 miles northeast of Paris. No exceptions. This small area produces all of the world’s Champagne which comes with an expensive price tag.
Everything else produced outside of the Champagne region is technically “sparkling wine” and can be just as good and much less expensive than Champagne.
Sparkling wine is made throughout the world under different names. My personal favorite is Crémant (from France in the non-Champagne region). There are a number of other wonderful sparkling wines made in the world such as Sekt (Germany), Cava (Spain), and Prosecco (Italy). With all of these “sparkling wine” types, you’ll get a lot of bubbles and sparkle, just without the hefty Champagne price.
Selecting Champagne and Sparkling Wine
So, now you know how to select Champagne and sparkling wine and decided to go for it and splurge on Champagne. Great! If you see “vintage” printed on the bottle along with the year, it means that particular sparkling wine was made with what the winemaker considered to be exceptional grapes.
For some not only does the price of the Champagne matter, but the size too. The standard sized bottle will yield about 6 glasses of bubbly (125 ml each). For those out to impress, there’s a Magnum (2 bottles), Jeroboam (4 bottles), Rehoboam (6 bottles), Methuselah (8 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles), Balthazar (16 bottles) and Nebuchandnezzar (20 bottles). The biblical names make a strong statement about the worth of the bottle of wine.
If you’ve opted for a good bottle of “sparkling wine” look for “Methode Traditionelle” on the bottle’s label. This tells you the sparkling wine has been made the same way true Champagne is instead of the time-saving Charmat process involving bulk fermentation in tanks resulting in a lesser quality wine.
For either Champagne or sparkling wine you’ll want to decide on the level of sweetness starting from the driest Extra Brut (pronounced “broot”), Brut, Extra dry, Sec to the sweetest Demi-sec.
Finally, the last decision is how much money you’d like to invest. Luckily there are price points for every budget.
Selecting the Right Glass
You’ve invested in a bottle of Champagne, sparkling wine, or maybe even both. Now it’s time to select the right glass (and not a plastic cup).
It’s been said that the coupe, the first Champagne glass shape, was produced in the 18th century and modeled on the French queen Marie Antoinette’s left breast. In actuality, the coupe glass was designed especially for Champagne in England in 1663 as a means to get people to buy new sets of glassware for the ever popular elegant wine Champagne.
Although during that time the shallow coupes were considered elegant, the shape actually dissipates the bubbles. In fact, this is exactly what the sophisticated ladies of the time wanted—to not burp in public. They’d even use a glass stick to break down the bubbles. What a pity because the pearls are a significant part of Champagne enjoyment.
Flute or Tulip
Fast forward to today when we want to keep the sparkle in sparkling wine. The flute design is better at preserving bubbles and aromas than the coupe, and comes in various forms—elongated, slightly inwardly curved at the rim, straight-sided, “V” shaped and with a wide mouth.
Flute haters (yes, they do exist) say a flute is too narrow to capture aromas, so an enlarged tulip glass is favored by the wine professionals. Like a flower, some balloon out at the base and turn in at the top; others turn in at the top and then flare out a bit.
Some glasses even have a small dot at the base which is designed to generate a steady stream of bubbles (pearls). After the first pour and sip, notice the beauty of the pearl activity and how Champagne and sparkling wine actually compliments food.
Whether you choose a breast, elongated, or flower-shaped glass, it will be so much better than a plastic cup. Pick a shape you like and then get ready to chill, cork, and pour.