It may seem like a drink that’s only used to ring in the New Year, raise a glass of at a wedding, or to sip the occasional mimosa at brunch, but champagne doesn’t have to be reserved only for special occasions. Champagne can be enjoyed on its own of course, or from appetizer to dessert, champagne pairs perfectly with a wide variety of foods throughout the entire duration of a meal. And if you love it, why not make it one of your cellar standards? At first, the labels, terms and price points seem a little daunting, but fear not! WineBaskets.com is here with a crash course on the confusing world of champagne. With just a little bit of knowledge, you can integrate champagne into any occasion, making the event feel extra special.
What is champagne? Champagne is sparkling (carbonated) wine made in the Champagne region of Northern France. However, not all of them hail from the region; in fact, champagne must be from the Champagne region in order to bear the name. If the wine is from Spain, it’s referred to as Cava, in Italy it’s known as Prosecco or Spumante, and in the United States, Sparkling Wine.
What kind of grapes are used to make champagne? Three types of grapes are used – chardonnay, pinot noir, or pinot meunier. If you see a champagne labeled “blanc de blancs”, that means only white grapes, chardonnay, were used to make it. If the label reads “Cuvee”, it is a blend of all three varietals. And if you see “blanc de noirs”, the champagne is made from red-wine grapes, pinot noir or pinot meunier, but the skins are removed quickly so the wine remains white. If the champagne is pink, it’s a Rosé, when a small amount of red wine is mixed in.
How did Champagne get its bubbles? By mistake, actually! In the 17th century, cold temperatures froze fermenting wine and prematurely stopped the fermentation. A second fermentation began when the frozen yeast thawed, resulting in exploding bottles! Later on, winemakers learned to control the second fermentation, and by the 18th century, the champagne industry as we know it today was taking form. If you ever see a bottle with the phrase Méthode Champenoise on the label, this means the second fermentation (the one that makes the bubbles) takes place in the bottle, not a giant tank.
What is the difference between Brut, Dry, and Extra Dry? Basically, this boils down to how much sugar is added after that second fermentation, referred to as the dosage. The more sugar added to the champagne, the sweeter and less dry it will be. A Brut has the least amount of sugar added, making it the driest. There’s really no “best” in this situation – it’s purely a matter of personal taste as to how sweet or dry you like your champagne.
How do I enjoy champagne at its best? Pop that bottle in the fridge at least an hour or two before opening, as champagne is best served chilled. If you have an ice bucket or a wine chiller, use it between glasses! A good champagne stopper is also a nice idea to keep the bubbles popping too, and then you won’t feel like you have to drink a whole bottle in one sitting. As we mentioned before, champagne can be enjoyed on its own, before dinner as an apertif, with dessert or as a digestif, but there are actually many dishes and entrees with which champagne pairs perfectly, particularly seafood, like this glazed and grilled cod, or Asian cuisine, especially sushi and other Japanese dishes.
The next time a celebration calls for a little bubbly, we hope this breakdown helped shed some light on the confusing world of champagne, and made it easier for you to choose a great bottle. And if you’re in the market for a great bottle of champagne, head over to WineBaskets.com – our sommelier-selected collection of Champagne Gifts is perfect for presenting an extravagant, extraordinary toast.
What’s your favorite brand of champagne?