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The Art Of Champagne Tasting

the-art-of-champagne-tastingTasting 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:

Sight

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.

Sound

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.

Odor

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.

Other sparkling wines

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.

The Most Expensive Champagnes in the World

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Champagne has become something that is enjoyed by pretty much everyone at least sometimes, but there are still types out there that evoke the incredible expense that it used to signify. We may not all be able to taste these vintages ourselves, but we can live vicariously through those who are lucky enough to have a glass or bottle of these following champagnes:

Dom Pérignon ($1,950) is a well known name throughout the world, and the remaining bottles of this vintage sell for an ever-increased sum as their numbers decrease. Moët et Chandon has in fact made a name for itself as a premier champagne house largely on the strength of this vintage.

Krug Clos d’Ambonnay ($3,500) manufactured with red wine grapes, Krug’s foremost product is a sublime and masterful example of champagne which demonstrates ably why Krug is such a respected name in the champagne world.

Perrier Jouët Champagne ($6,485) is a sparkling wine made with the very best grapes the Perrier Jouët house can grow, and it is clear when tasting this why such a degree of discernment is warranted. These bottles are sold in groups of twelve, so you won’t run out too quickly.

The Champagne Cristal Brut 1990 ($17,625) was only ever produced in limited quantities, and when you combine rarity with quality you get a price tag like this one. This is an elegant and memorable vintage well worth the wait and the cost.

Krug 1928 ($21,000) is Krug’s second entry on this list, and a bottle sold for $21,000 at auction in 2008. The grapes used were grown in 1926, and the first bottle was manufactured in 1938, making this a very old sparkling wine that has justified its cost with a tremendous and widely-lauded pedigree.

Dom Pérignon White Gold Jeroboam ($40,000) marks the other champagne house with two entries on this list. At over twenty times the cost of ‘ordinary’ Dom Pérignon, White Gold Jeroboam is a masterwork of delicate sparkling wine and wholly deserves its royal appellation.

Pernod Ricard Perrier Jouët ($50,000) comes in a set of twelve bottles, and a variety of liquors have been used, allowing you to choose one that most suits your taste. These liquors are both exotic and of the highest quality, combining with some of the finest grapes France has ever grown for a truly spectacular champagne.

Fifty thousand US dollars is a huge sum, even for twelve bottles of champagne. So would you believe that the most expensive item on this list does not come in a set of twelve, but that the price represents one single bottle? Here is the most expensive champagne in the world and, as far as we can tell, in all of history.

Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck ($275,000) is by far the most expensive champagne in the world. In 1916 a considerable shipment of this champagne was sent via sea from France to Russia, intended for the Imperial Court. The ship carrying this shipment was sunk by a German U-boat, however, and it lay at the bottom of the icy Baltic for over eighty years, until being discovered in 1998. Astonishingly, many of the bottles survived intact, and unsurprisingly this extraordinarily rare vintage commands a tremendous price tag, but all accounts suggest the quality of the wine justifies it.

The champagne world is always evolving however, and who knows what will be released, or even discovered, in the future? We’re always keeping an eye out for new rare and expensive champagnes.

The Proper Pour

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Champagne is a drink that works in multiple scenarios. Whether celebrating with a group of friends or having an intimate evening with a special someone, champagne is a fine choice. Pouring champagne is something of an art, but it is one that can be easily mastered with the right information. Here is a quick guide to how to properly pour a glass of champagne.

Chill the Bottle.  Pouring champagne begins long before you are ready to open the bottle. To start off on the right foot, make sure that you chill your champagne. Place the bottle in ice in a wine bucket for roughly an hour or two. If you don’t have a wine bucket, you can achieve the same effect by allowing the bottle to chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Wrap the Bottle.  There is more to wrapping the bottle of champagne in a napkin than just style. The practical reasoning behind this is that it will absorb condensation, allowing for an easier grip on the bottle, and soak up any loose drops of bubbly that slip past the glass. A tea towel is your best bet, as it will absorb the most loose liquid, but you can still substitute a linen napkin in a pinch.

Pop It Open.  Perhaps the most exciting part of the process is opening the bottle. There is a sense of electric anticipation as you unwrap the foil and prepare to push the cork from its tight hold in the mouth of the bottle. During this, be sure to hold your hand over the cork. Some bottles can be tricky, and the cork can pop all on its own. To avoid injury or accident, keep one hand over the cork, pointed away from anyone’s face or any nearby glass.

The Pour.  The real artistry of serving champagne exists in the moment of the pour. Do not pour champagne with one hand and hold a glass in another, as it can easily slip without proper support from both hands. Instead, pour into glasses on a stable surface, or in the hands of those you are serving. When you pour, you want to hold the bottle in two spots: one hand should go on the bottom of the bottle, where the indented area known as the punt resides, and the other should hold the bottle from the side as you tilt.

There are many opinions out there on how to properly pour a glass of champagne. The more widespread opinion is that you should keep the glass flat and pour the bottle from an angle, aiming directly for the base of the glass. This is the way that the French have been pouring champagne for years. Since it is the country where the drink originates, no one thought twice about questioning the method. Still, questioning the status quo can be beneficial, as some French researchers discovered.

While the traditional method might be the popularized approach, the researchers discovered that there is a much more scientific way to go about pouring a glass of champagne. When pouring, champagne is handled in the same manner as pouring a glass of beer, with the glass itself on an angle as it is being filled, more CO2 is preserved. Carbonation is quite important in maximizing the pleasure of champagne, so you want to have high levels of CO2 in each glass. The “beer pour” tactic might not be as widespread as the traditional methods, but it is a way that will allow you a much more satisfying amount of champagne that you can raise a glass to.

How to Select Good Champagne

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Choosing the perfect bottle of champagne shouldn’t be difficult if you understand the basics. Before you make your selection there are several important things to consider when deciding between the wide variety of champagnes available. Make sure to:

1. Understand the origins.  Champagne, with a capital c, refers to varieties made exclusively in the Champagne of France. Other champagnes, known also as sparkling wines, are made in various areas across the globe including California, Australia, and Italy. The varieties produced in France are held to a highly specific production standard called appellation. This process is an ancestral method and requires strict adherence to each individual step.

2. Decide on a price range.  There is a wide range of prices available for different varieties. Champagne from France ranges anywhere from $40 to $100 and is determined by whether the bottle is of a mass produced variety or a vintage selection. Laurent Perrier and Moët & Chandon are the more affordable varieties and vintage Champagnes include Dom Pérignons and Krugs.

If you’re opting for a sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne of France you can expect to pay anywhere from $8 to $30 a bottle. The price difference depends on the vineyard, the bottling process, and taste. ?

There are also exclusive champagnes that are available for purchase that range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars. Vintage bottles of Pol Roger Winston Churchill can sell for $300 to $600 dollars and rare finds, including bottles salvaged from the bottom of the Baltic Ocean on a crashed 1907 ocean liner, may sell for upwards of $10,000.

3. Choose the bottle size.  Champagnes come in a wide variety of bottle sizes. Pay attention to the size of the bottle when making your selection. If you are choosing a bottle that is above 3 liters be prepared for a higher price tag because the glass bottles are far more difficult to make. You may also want to consider choosing smaller bottles in order to enjoy several different champagnes.

4. Select a variety based on sparkle, taste, and color.  There are three main differences in champagnes; sparkle, taste, and color. These differences make up the unique flavor of each champagne and are important to your selection process.

  • Sparkle The champagne’s sparkle is determined both by its nature and its temperature. If you choose a bottle that barely sparkles in your mouth it is a sign that it isn’t cold enough or it is of poor quality. A good rule of thumb is that the smaller the size of the bubbles the higher the quality. The amount of sparkle, also known as sparkling intensity, is really up to the individual and depends primarily on personal preference.
  • Taste The tastes of champagnes are incredibly varied and offer something for every individual preference. Brut is a popular flavor of champagne and boasts a dry and oaky taste. You may be interested in a sweeter variety that features hints of citrus or vanilla. It is important to pay attention to both the dryness and the flavor of the specific variety when choosing a bottle.
  • Color There are many different colors available ranging from amber to silver to pink. The most common color of champagne is a faint yellow color created by the skins of the grapes used.

Romance and Champagne

When the Romans were attempting to establish viable vineyards in the Champenois region of northern France around the fifth century, things didn’t look good for the now highly-prized wines from that region.  Pale and pink in color, the wines from that region were not very full-bodied, and often very acidic.  Also, the temperate north rather than the warmer south meant that the grapes failed to ripen fully, and cold winters often stopped the fermentation process altogether in the chilly months, only for it to start again as the temperature rose in the Spring – at worst, casks and bottles would burst under gas pressure, and at best, the wine would be full of bubbles, much to the horror of the French makers, who considered this a terrible fault.

However, the British, not generally renowned for their culinary good taste during the 18th century, developed something of a taste for sparkling wine, especially amongst the upper classes and aristocracy.  Not to be outdone, the French claimed back their previously considered “spoiled” wine as their own, and champagne as a drink associated with wealth and celebration was born.

What’s in a Name?

Champagne obviously takes its name from the region in which the famous pinot noir grapes are grown, but did you know that one of the most famous brand names in the champagne industry – Dom Perignon – was actually that of a 17th century monk?  A perfectionist, Dom Perignon insisted on the vines now growing above a certain height, and limiting contact between pressing and grape skin, thus standardizing the pale perfection of today’s champagnes rather than the more pinkish hue generally expected from a white wine made from red grapes.

Sweet as Sugar

The British didn’t let their early fascination with sparkling wine wane, and much debate and experimentation went on with regard to making it bubble.  Christopher Merret, a scientist, opined that pretty much any wine could be made to sparkle by adding sugar.  Poems and plays of the period mention the beauty of a glass of sparkling champagne with increasing regularity, with an early link between champagne and romance made in the 1693 play “Love and a Bottle”.

Vive la Revolution

Champagne even managed to show some love back during the end of the eighteenth century – champagne merchants happily changed the titles of noblemen and women to the revolution approved “Citizen” on their invoices, thus saving many lives.  As the aristocracy fled across Europe to safety, many of the brand names we recognize today fled with them.

You might think that EU rules and regulations about what can and cannot call itself champagne might have taken some of the modern day romance out of this most luxurious of sparkling wines, but whether it’s engagement or wedding, special occasion or just because we can, champagne is still our first choice of wine to add a special glamor and polish to any occasion.  From a humble and disappointingly flat product that was a laughing stock amongst its more established wine-growing neighbors, this acidic formerly pink drink has pulled off the most romantic transformation of all, truly going from ugly duckling to beautiful swan.

5 Myths About Champagne

5-myths-about-champagneWho doesn’t love a little bubbly with dessert or brunch? Once reserved for weddings and New Year’s Eve, Champagne is becoming increasingly popular for everyday drinking and smaller occasions. However, there are still a lot of myths floating around about this fizzy, bubble wine beverage. Here’s a closer look at those myths and the real truth that they’re masking.

Myth 1: Champagne gets you drunk faster than other wines.

Many people have come to believe that they’ll get sloppy a lot faster drinking Champagne than if they were to drink red or white wine. This is a myth, as champagne is 12% alcohol by volume on average. By comparison, red wine is usually about 13% alcohol and white wine is usually around 11.5%. If you drink 8 ounces of Champagne, you should not be any more or less drunk than if you were to drink an equal quantity of red or white wine. The thing is, most people drink Champagne faster than they drink wine, since the bubbles help it go down so easily. Moderate your drinking, and you should be just fine.

Myth 2: All carbonated wine is Champagne.

This may be true colloquially, but technically, there are many types of bubbly or sparkling wine and Champagne is just one of them. Champagne is made in the Champagne region of France from specific types of grapes. Other sparking wines include Cava, which is a Spanish specialty, and Prosecco, which is made in Italy. Carbonated wines made in Australia or the US are sold as “sparkling wine.”

Myth 3: Champagne must be served in a champagne flute.

Though you often see Champagne served in flute for special occasions, this is more for show than anything. To fully enjoy the nuanced flavors of the bubbly, it’s actually better to serve it in a wider white wine glass. This allows the drink to have more contact with your tongue as you sip it. There’s also more space for you to enjoy the aroma of the Champagne, which really enhances the experience.

Myth 4: There are two types of Champagne: sweet and dry.

There’s actually a whole spectrum of sweetness, so you can find a Champagne that’s a great match for your tastes. Usually, Champagnes are divided into five categories based on sweetness.

  • Demi-Sec: This is the sweetest Champagne and is usually served with dessert.
  • Sec: These Champagnes are slightly less sweet and may be a nice choice for breakfast.
  • Brute: A good middle-of-the-road Champagne with sweetness comparable to Riesling.
  • Extra Brute: These Champagnes are dry without too much bite.
  • Brute Nature: The driest Champagnes fall into this category. Usually, these are paired with cheeses and meats or served with dinner.

Myth 5: Champagne should be served ice cold.

This myth probably comes from the images of Champagne bottles sitting in ice buckets at cafes along the French sidewalk. While you want your Champagne a bit chilled, serving it ice cold will just mask the more nuanced flavors. The drier the Champagne, the warmer you want to serve it. Brute Nature and Extra Brute Champagnes can be put in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving. Sec, Brute, and Demi-Sec will be perfect if refrigerated for about an hour. There’s no reason to keep the bottle on ice unless the you’re outside where the temperature is soaring (as in those French photographs.)

The world of Champagne is a fun one to explore! Now that you know the truth behind these myths, feel free to sample different varieties in the glasses of your choice without that ice bucket by your side. Happy sipping!

 

Writing that Perfect Champagne Toast

champagne toastEvery occasion or event has its own special moment built right into it. A wedding ceremony is momentous, but for some couples, it might be the cutting of the cake or the exchanging of rings that makes the event that much more special. For a birthday party, it might be blowing out the candles on the cake or opening the gifts that really stop the show. Regardless of what the event is, there’s more than likely going to be a toast with champagne of some sort. There are right and wrong ways to write the perfect champagne toast, but the easiest way to do it right is to fall back on answering the age old question of who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Who – This might be the most important question you’ll answer to write your toast. Who are you toasting? The language you use might depend on the age of your toast recipients, for instance. Whoever that might be, remember that your toast is for them.

What – What are you toasting to? Simply, what is the occasion? Quite naturally, this is where your deepest inspiration will hail from. There are hundreds of prewritten toasts for you to borrow from if you need more inspiration. However, don’t settle for a cookie cutter version of what you wish to say. Make it specific to what the occasion is.

When – If your toast comes at the beginning of the occasion, there could be more people there who are alert. If it comes right after the most special part has passed, your toast will need to grab the guests’ attention. Make sure you play on the emotions and traits of the recipient. When also refers to the time of day or year you will be making your toast. It would be perfect if you could incorporate the current season into your toast. Even the slightest reference will do.

Where – You want to consider where you are going to be making your toast. Is it going to be outside or inside, in a restaurant or in someone’s home, or is it in the backyard or in the living room? The setting is as important as what you are toasting to. Depending on where you are set to deliver your toast, you might want to make it longer, especially in casual settings like a living room.

Why – This could be a difficult question to answer, as it has its layers. On the one hand, you need to know why you were chosen to make a toast. You’ll want your words to reflect your relationship to the recipient. Also, make it a point to prove why you were the best person to make the toast. Don’t be shy! Preference your toast with, “We’ve known each other since”, “As your older brother/sister”, or simply say, “To my dearest friend/coworker”.

How – While there is a list of general rules and toasting etiquette you can refer to in order to make your toast perfect, don’t get caught up following a thousand rules. It will be perfect if it’s from the heart and to the point. Speak clearly and loud enough and make sure you have everyone’s attention before commencing. There’s nothing worse than realizing half your audience missed your toast.

Before you join the festivities during your next big occasion, remember that a toast has its own time. You not only want to make it at the perfect time, but you should make it as perfect as possible. Keep it short and sweet. Remember why you’re toasting and to whom you’re toasting.

The Busiest Times of Year for Purchasing Champagne

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Champagne, a type of sparkling wine produced from grapes from the Champagne region of France, is among the most recognizable drinks in the world. It is used across the globe in times of celebration, and is often seen as an indulgent and luxurious beverage. With that being sad, it should come as no surprise that champagne is particularly popular during certain times of the year. In fact, champagne sales and consumption dip and peak throughout the 12-month calendar year, but their popularity always takes over during periods of significant celebration and, in particular, romance.

The Winter Holidays

New Year’s Eve is the biggest day for the consumption of champagne across the United States and in Europe, as well. Champagne toasts have become synonymous with ringing in the new year. According to experts, 360 million glasses of champagne are served across the United States on New Year’s eve. Many of those glasses are used for midnight toasts. According to restaurateurs, they do not sell as many individual bottles of champagne to table as many people would expect.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are also fairly popular holidays for champagne, as well. According to experts, champagne is a popular gift, as well as a popular drink during the holiday season. The same is true for Thanksgiving, which also has hardy champagne sales in the week leading up to the holiday.

Valentine’s Day

The week leading up to Valentine’s day sees a balloon in sales for champagne and other sparkling beverages. According to experts, about 1.6 million bottles of champagne are sold during Valentine’s day. While the numbers trail that of New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving,it is all relative. According to experts, sales of champagne dip heavily after New Years, spike again during Valentine’s day, the drop off once again until wedding season approaches. Valentine’s day is trumped only by the winter holiday’s in champagne sales.

Wedding Season

While, pound for pound, New Year’s eve and Valentine’s day, utilize the most bubbly out of any single calendar day, it can be argued that the wedding season is the biggest season for champagne consumption, and, thus sales. Running from early April, through early October, the wedding season kicks off quickly, but lulls in the deep summer months, only to pick back up in September, when temperatures begin to dip again. Wedding season, as many insiders call it, puts a premium on venues, photographers, and even florists, so it would stand to reason that the season, packed with love and commitment,would be a huge time for champagne sales and usage.

Most weddings include, at the very least, a champagne toast. When wedding season officially is, however, differs based on location. For example, in the east, it begins a bit later, often in May, but in the South it begins in March and lulls during the oppressive heat of July and August.

When to Buy

While champagne sales have their peak, buying champagne,for the most part, is a relatively easy process and is a simply transaction regardless of the time of year. If you, however, are searching for a particular vintage, brand or style of champagne, it is best to head into the store you are shopping at at least two weeks before you need the item, to ensure it is either in stock, or can be ordered in time for your celebration or romantic evening. Dealing with retailers directly may yield you the best results in finding a particular vintage.

Pairing Foods With Champagne

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True champagnes have a richly deserved reputation as some of the finest, most sublime liquors in the entire world. Their sparkling texture and broad range of sweetness, however, sometimes make them difficult to properly pair with the right foods.

Here are just some of our favorites:

Chevre and Peaches.  Do yourself a favor and wait for peaches to be at the height of the summer season before creating this simple dish. A good chevre – that’s goat cheese to you non-cognoscenti – can be found throughout the year. Assembling the dish is a simple as slicing the cheese and fruit, sprinkling with one of the following herbs – we prefer basil, mint or thyme and even lavender – and then complementing with a delicate champagne like Taittinger’s la Francaise.

Apulia Bread w/Olive Oil.  This “crusty on the outside, doughy on the inside” bread is the perfect vector for transporting a load of the Egyptian condiment, dukka, drenched in a grassy olive oil into your mouth. Then add a mouthful of a demi-sec like Heidsieck & Co’s Monopole Red Top and you will be floating on a cushion of pure gastronomic joy.

Oysters Rockefeller.  Created over a century ago in the renowned restaurant, Antoine’s, in New Orleans, the rich buttery sauce of this dish beautifully complements the broiled, breaded oysters underneath. Still, some gourmands find it overly rich unless paired with a little champagne on the fruity side like Moët & Chandon’s Impérial.

Fried Mushrooms.  While many will denigrate the drinking of champagne with any fried food, a blanc de noir – made from darker grapes like pinot noir – actually makes quite a nice complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms. For a truly memorable experience, consider trying Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Francaises for a new look at the taste of mushrooms, chanterelles and even truffles.

Poached Eggs with Parmesan.  For a slightly different approach – one without the hollandaise – consider simple poached eggs laced with fresh basil and parmesan. Then, add a glass of a dry brut sparkling wine like Krug’s and you will have a sure-fire winner of a meal for breakfast lunch or dinner. By the way, for a little extra oomph, serve with a side of smoked salmon toast.

Steamed Lobster.  As simple as it gets, preparing lobster in this way with just onion, garlic, red pepper in the bottom of the pot makes a fantastic main course. For a little extra flair or, if it is January 1st, add some leftover champagne as the steaming liquid. Afterwards, a little more of the same – obviously a little fresher – like a dry Napoleon Tradition Brut. It is a great way to end the start of the New Year.

Chocolate Glazed Pound Cake.  This dessert has it all – the firmness and moisture of the cake and the crunchiness that turns to syrup of the bittersweet chocolate are highlighted by the sweetness of a doux champagne like those made by Fleury Pere et Fils Millesime Doux. Fathers and sons have never before made something so decadent.

Foie Gras.  This pairing goes quite far out on the limb but we think you will appreciate it. Most connoisseurs prefer fois gras with a sauterne like Chateau d’Yquem but for something completely different, try Veuvre Cliquot champagne with foie gras, a biscuit – yes, a simple buttermilk biscuit – and, dare I say it? – sausage gravy. Crazy talk. I hear ya‘ but this pairing is simply superb and quite unique.