Bubbly Basics: A Quick Guide to Champagne
Champagne. When I hear this word I instantly perk up. Maybe it's the bubbles, the taste, or the celebratory vibe, all I know is that champagne is my #1 all-time favorite beverage of choice.
When I say I love champagne, I truly love and appreciate it 100%. For a long time I never really understood the hype around what many call 'overpriced sparkling wine.' But then, a few years ago I had the opportunity to take a champagne course with an expert sommelier from Moët Chandon and instantly fell in love with the history, the process, and the magic that goes into making these precious bottles of bubbles.
You see, throughout all of my 'adult beverage-enjoying' years so far, I thought I had tasted champagne. We've all been there, it's New Years Eve and we're feeling fancy toasting our glasses of champagne...or so we thought. I hate to burst your bubbly, but 99% of the time what we cheers with here in the United States is not champagne - it's sparkling wine.
So, with holiday season in full swing I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a quick guide explaining the basics of bubbly that I have learned over the past few years attending tastings, visiting champagne bars, and learning about the process.
…and if you take away anything from this post, hopefully you learn a few fun facts that will certainly make for some pretty interesting conversation starters!
~ True champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. Regarded as the most expensive and valuable vineyards in the world, these precious bubbles come from the grapes grown about 45 minutes outside of Paris referred to as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC.
~ Almost all champagnes are made from three varieties of grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.
~ French laws require specific amounts of time to make champagne. Non-vintage champagnes take a minimum of 15 months, while vintage champagnes require at least 3 years. However, most champagne houses double or triple this time. To contrast, mass-produced sparkling wine can be made in a year.
~ Vintage vs. Non-Vintage: Not only do vintage champagnes take longer to make, they are almost a fluke to create! Non-vintage (NV) champagnes are created from a blend of grapes that are not required to all have been harvested within the same year. Vintage champagne on the other hand, does require all grapes to come from the same harvest. This requires an almost perfect climate to grow each grape. When wine makers are lucky enough to experience that, it creates a truly special blend known as a vintage. For that exact reason, not all champagne houses offer yearly vintages or vintage champagnes at all. When they say "that was a good year", they mean it!
~ But what does brut mean?! Just like wines, champagne has a scale of dry to sweet too! This scale ranges from Extra Brut, which is the driest, to Demi Sec, which is the sweetest. However, most tend to drink brut.
~ You're probably pronouncing them incorrectly...it took me a while to learn how to say these top champagne brands, so I'm here to help:
Veuve Clicquot: pronounced Vuv Klee-koh
Ruinart: pronounced Ruin-art
Moët Chandon: pronounced Mo-ette Shan-don
Perrier Jouët: pronounced Perry-ay Zhou-ette
~ The best glass to serve champagne in isn't the one your thinking! While many enjoy the beauty of a flute or coupe (me included) sommeliers will highly recommend that the shape of a white wine glass works best to savor the aromas all while preserving the bubbles.
~ Champagne pairs best with salty foods. Yep, grab yourself some fries, popcorn, or a hotdog and you've got yourself a match made in heaven! There's even a restaurant in New Orleans, Sylvain, that offers a bottle of champagne and a plate of fries for a cool $90 - sounds like my dream date night.
~ I recommend sipping at home first. Yes, champagne is more expensive than your average bottle of wine. With most good bottles starting around $55-65 for 750ml, champagne certainly is a little luxury. However, champagne purchased while dining out is HIGHLY marked up. What would be $60 in your local wine & spirits is easily $120+ on that wine list! So if you are interested in tasting, I sincerely recommend pouring a few glasses at home first to find out what you like before investing in tableside bottle service.
Lastly, this doesn't mean I don't like sparkling wines. If you have followed along with my Instagram Series, 'Sipping with Samantha' you may have seen me use sparkling wines and prosecco often as an ingredient. They are absolutely still something I enjoy and purchase (for far less money). For me personally, champagne is something that makes me feel fancy - which I LOVE. It's not something I drink just to drink, but rather something I cherish, sip slowly, and savor when I have the chance to enjoy!
CHAMPAGNE MUST HAVES