Wine Notes – Celebrating with Champagne
Nothing says “celebration” like a Champagne toast. Yet many of my friends say they don’t care much for this bubbly treat. Then I find out that they weren’t drinking real Champagne, or were consuming a very inexpensive version.
Often their most recent exposure to Champagne came at the last wedding they attended, when it was served in an inappropriate glass and poured too soon before drinking. They toasted with a warm, flat and bitter beverage that probably was better suited for a saute pan. The old axiom about having “Champagne taste on a beer budget” is oh, so true. Good Champagne isn’t inexpensive, so if you are planning a Champagne toast, be sure it is served correctly and that you have a bottle that everyone will enjoy.
Champagne is the region in northeast France where the world-renowned sparkling wine is produced. The chalky hills of Champagne provide the ideal growing environment for chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, three types that are used together to make Champagne. These grapes are gently pressed and made into a still wine through normal fermentation. The bubbles are formed during a second fermentation, when sugar and yeast are added to the bottles. Real Champagne comes only from Champagne, France, and is by law produced under strict regulations. (Products labeled “sparkling wine,” with no mention of “Champagne,” are not real Champagne.)
Not all Champagne is created equal. Grapes from villages that are rated as “Grand Cru” and “Premier Cru” demand the highest prices and are generally used in the production of “vintage” Champagnes. These will set you back $100 to $500 or more per bottle, and are thus responsible for Champagne’s high-priced reputation. Nonvintage Champagnes are made from a blend of still wines of multiple vintages, and generally intended to have a consistent taste from year to year.
Champagne should be served chilled in a crystal Champagne flute. This tall, narrow stemware helps to keep the wine chilled, enables a person to enjoy the aroma, and helps to preserve the bubbles. Some function facilities may still use a Champagne coupe for toasting (popular in the 1930s), but this type of glass is wide and rather shallow and really not good for anything other than stacking in layers to form a tower. Nearly every wine expert will agree that the flute is the stemware to use in order to get the most out of this beverage.
As with any wine you elect to serve, it is very important to taste it first and find something you think will appeal to your guests’ palate. Don’t rely on name, reputation or price. Each can be very misleading.
There are many fine Champagnes, so I hope you enjoy your search for the ultimate toast. Shop at the best wine stores, ask questions, and take home a few bottles in order to do your research properly. As Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Take his advice, open your wallet and enjoy what many consider to be the world’s best beverage.