Some people drink champagne as casually as any other wine, and that’s a great way to enjoy it. For most of us, only special occasions call for sparkling and it’s normal to have some apprehension: am I pouring it right? Can my guests tell that I have no idea what I’m doing?
The good news is that we do have rules and best practices for enjoying and serving champagne. When in doubt, fall back on these “proper” ways to drink champagne:
Know your varieties.
You may already know that sparkling wine and champagne are not necessarily the same thing — the real stuff only comes from the Champagne region, according to French law — but there’s more worth knowing.
Traditional champagne consists of three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. We think of it as a white wine, but it really comes from about two-thirds red grapes. Ah, the complexity.
Blanc de blancs uses only white grapes, while blanc de noirs uses mostly red pinot noir grapes. Other names generally refer to production methods.
Store it correctly. Champagne should be chilled, but not over-refrigerated. The best temperature range is 45° to 48°F, so if you do not have a wine chiller you can place the bottle in the fridge for a few hours before serving. To make it classier, use a nice ice bucket.
Besides the fact that you don’t want frigidly cold wine, the refrigerator also dries out the cork and ruins the bubbles. Saving the good stuff? Leave it in a cool, dark place until the occasion arrives.
Open it like a pro. No sword necessary; but the real trick is twisting the bottle while holding the cork, rather than the other way around. Professionals also swear by loosening, but not removing, the wire top.
Choose the right glass. Flutes serve formal and celebratory occasions, but only for style points. For regular enjoyment, use white wine glasses to let the champagne breathe a little.
Don’t overpour. Err on the side of smaller glasses and you’ll enjoy every sip with the right temperature and bubbles. Pour too much and the second half of your glass will get warm and flat.
If you pour heavy out of fear that the bottle itself will get flat, you need to upgrade your stopper.
Hold it by the stem. Pinky out, pinky in… it’s really up to you. Just don’t hold the bowl because it warms and alters the champagne.
Pair it with the right foods. The romantic view of champagne often leads people to drink it without food or with ironically bad choices like delicate foods and desserts.
Sparkling wine pairs best with savory, salty, fatty foods. A gourmet steak or a fried chicken sandwich would do equally well, and much better than a salad or slice of cake.
Know how to mix it. Mimosas aren’t the only way to go — you can create stunning combinations with St. Germain and other liqueurs, cognac, brandy, various citric and tart fruits, or other sweet-bitter additions.
Just be sure not to waste money on a complex, upscale champagne since you won’t be noticing all the flavors anyway. Stick with something dry and practice your pouring (you don’t want to use a jigger with something sparkling).
Remember that champagne is a wine meant to be enjoyed — not a sticking point for good manners. The rules exist not to exclude anyone, but to make sure everyone can discover the best route to great-tasting champagne in every glass.