Tasting champagne or a similar sparkling wine is an experience involving all of the senses. Champagne is actually the name of a sparkling wine from that delimited region of France using certain grape combinations.
Champagne from this region of France is blended from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes. The red Pinot Noir skins are not left in the mix long enough to color the wine. The different amounts of each grape variety blended into the wine is the decision of the winemaker.
The bubbly wine is developed over a minimum of 15 months using a special process to age it before it is finally put in bottles, corked and sent to the market for sale. If you are fortunate to taste this carefully designed wine, there are several things to note:
Your eyesight is the first sense that is used in examining the champagne. Look for a gold to light straw yellow color. The liquid should be clear with bubbles cascading as it is poured into a glass.
Pouring champagne is an art form for the person who pours. The uncorked bottle should be wrapped at the neck with a serviette (napkin) and the liquid poured onto the side of a gently angled glass. Tubular glasses are recommended. Watching this event that takes only seconds is part of the tasting process.
Hearing the cork pop followed by a gentle hissing indicates that there are tiny bubbles waiting to be released along with the carbon dioxide gas. Those bubbles should make a slight fizzing sound as the liquid is poured into the glass.
Inhale the odor of the wine before you drink it. This is recommended for most wines, even if they are not the sparkling variety. The nose or smell is delicate with a slight woodsy, spicy or floral odor.
Smelling wine and other beverages is part of the tasting process. Champagne’s special delicate odors change while the wine is exposed to air in the glass. This is according to champagne experts who judge wines. The bubbly should be allowed to stay in the glass for a minute or two before it is consumed.
Touch and taste
Holding the glass by the stem is another part of the experience. You can also touch the bottle to feel how cold it is. Champagne and sparkling wine should be served chilled at a temperature of 46.5-50 degrees F or 8-10 degrees C.
Taste is the final part of the experience. This is not a product to be gulped down like a soda drink. It is to be sipped to fully appreciate the feel of the bubbles and the delicate taste of the wine.
Professional wine tasters look for a sharpness, intensity and fruity richness in the flavor. Bubbles should “explode” in the mouth with an acidic sharpness, according to the experts. Everyone else can simply enjoy the pleasant flavor of the blend.
Champagne is not actually a generic name although it is sometimes used to indicate high quality in a product.
California winemakers in the Napa and Sonoma valleys follow the same procedures used in France to produce outstanding sparkling wines. They may use different grape combinations and they do not advertise their sparkling wines as champagne. Other wine producing states and countries follow the same rules under international treaties and agreements. Prosecco is a sparkling wine from Italy and Cava comes from Spain. Both sparkling wines are tasted in the same way as French champagne.
Regardless of where you taste sparkling wines, enjoy and toast the winemaker who created the vintage.