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All About Champagne

all about champagne

Photo by Antonis Achilleos

Like Band-Aids and Q-tips, champagne (lowercase c) has become the catchall name for sparkling wine. True Champagne (yes, with a capital C) comes from the Champagne region of France. Sparkling wine is from California; prosecco and spumante are from Italy; Cava is from Spain; and Sekt is from Germany.

But the story of Champagne is a lot more complex that that…

Why the Bubbles?
Champagne’s bubbles are created when a bit of yeast and sugar are put into the bottles of a base, non-sparkling wine, causing a second fermentation (regular wine only ferments once) that results in bubbles of carbon dioxide.

Determining Dryness
Champagne is classified by how much sugar it contains.
Brut: Driest, least sweet; most good Champagnes are Brut or Extra-Dry.
Extra-Dry: The next driest; the term is confusing since it’s not as dry as Brut.
Sec: Means “dry” in French, but it’s sweet.
Demi-Sec: Moderately sweet; serve it with desserts that aren’t too sugary.
Doux: The Barbie Dream House of sweet. .

The Grapes
Vintage: Made from grapes all from the same year because the fruit was so amazing. You can recognize a vintage because the year will be on the bottle.
Blanc de Blancs: Made entirely of white Chardonnay grapes.
Cuvée Champagne: Made from a mix or blend of grapes from different years.
Blanc de Noirs: Made of the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the skins are taken off so the bubbly is still white in color). These are less acidic and have a stronger fruit quality.
Rosé Pink: Made by leaving the juice of red grapes in contact with their skins for a while, or by blending the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier wine.

Quick Tips

  • To get more bang for your buck, consider buying Bouvet. It’s a region adjacent to Champagne, and its bubbly is arguably as good but is less expensive than its famous neighbor’s.
  • Real Champagne aficionados with tell you it’s the ultimate drink to serve throughout dinner. Yeah, we like that idea too!
  • To tell a cheap sparkling wine from a fancy one, look at the bubbles. Expensive ones have tons of tiny bubbles. Cheaper Champagnes have larger bubbles, which create a foamy feeling in your mouth…not unlike drinking a 40-ounce.
  • Champagne should be between 43 and 48 degrees before you uncork the bottle.

Kir Royale
Pour one ounce of crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) into a glass and top with four to five ounces of Champagne.
Perfect for: An evening cocktail

Bellini
Pour two ounces of peach nectar or Cipriani Bellini mix (biggourmet.com) into four to six ounces of Champagne.
Perfect for: Brunch or before dinner

Bubbling Lychee Grapefruit Martini
Combine two parts Stoli vodka, two parts SOHO Lychee liqueur, and a splash of grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass; top with two parts Champagne.
Perfect for: Wowing your guests into thinking you’re a cocktail Zen master.

Flute vs. Tulip Glass
Connoisseurs recommend tall, skinny flutes because their elongated shape concentrates the bouquet and encourages bubbles to rise to the surface. And let’s not forget that drinking straight from the bottle works too. Cheers!

-- The Nest Editors

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