LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall/Winter 2017 | Holiday parties are upon us with winter celebrations that run well into next year, and nothing sets the stage for a party guest more perfectly than being offered a glass of bubbles from an ornate silver tray. Great bubbles are found all over the world. All special occasions call for sparkling wine, but winter holiday parties demand an impressive sparkler. I receive more emails requesting sparkler and Champagne suggestions in December than at any other time of the year. People are confused with how to select a type or style of sparkling wine. Should it be domestic or international? How should it be chilled and served? What food pairs with sparkling wines? They even ask, “What is the proper etiquette for giving a Champagne toast?” These questions are answered here including a Champagne Primer that explains wine sweetness levels, bottle sizes, and defining terms of style and production – everything you need to know to be more knowledgeable about sparkling wine and Champagne. Cheers!
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine
Great bubbles are found everywhere, but Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France. Cremant can also come from the French regions of Loire, Alsace, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Sparkling wines come from many other regions: Shiraz or Chardonnay from Australia and Tasmania; American sparklers from many states including California, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, New Mexico, Texas and New York; Cava from Spain; sparklers from South Africa; Prosecco or Franciacorta from Italy; Sekt from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic; and now British sparkling wines. Simply choose the one that fits your budget, or the theme of your event.
Before serving, chill the wine well for 30 minutes by placing the bottle in a bucket filled with ice, and just enough water to make a slurry.
The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is equivalent to that of a large tire, so be aware of flying cork consequences. Turn the wire 5 ½ twists. Slant the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from guests and untwist the bottle instead of the cork – leaving the wire muzzle loosely coupled for safety and leverage.
Grasp the cork firmly, twisting the bottle slowly to let the pressure help ease the cork out while maintaining greater pressure on it. A maiden’s sigh is the sound to aim for – not a loud pop.
Serve in tall flute, tulip glasses, or coupes (modeled supposedly after Marie Antoinette’s breast) at a temperature of 42-47 degrees. Pour a small amount into the glass, allowing the bubbles to settle, and then top off to about 2/3 full. Let this be consumed fully, and do not top it off so that it again can be enjoyed chilled.
Food pairing for Champagne spans from appetizers to main courses and desserts. Pair Champagne with Oysters Rockefeller and Smoked salmon toasts points with cream cheese. Salty choices always pair well with dry sparkling wines. Popcorn tossed with Parmesan cheese and olive oil is a simple example. Follow the wine and dessert pairing guideline: make sure that the Champagne is sweeter (demi-sec through Doux) than the dessert, or the wine will fall flat.
Special occasions often require you to give a Champagne toast for the gathering. Select the correct words and practice them. A touch of humor is rarely out of place, but understand that you may be recorded and tweeted later, so be appropriate. When ready, make sure that everyone has been poured a glass of Champagne (or sparkling wine). Say, “May I have your attention” vs. beating on the glassware with utensils. Stand up. Look and speak directly to the person/couple you are toasting at the beginning and end of your toast, but address the rest of the audience during the heart of the toast. Do not gesture with your glass, or you may slosh the wine. A toast of 90 seconds or less in length is always appreciated. Finally, end your toast and tip your glass and take a sip.
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I’m not.” – Coco Chanel
A Champagne Primer
Champagne Sweetness Terms
Brut Natural or Brut Zéro – very dry 0-3 gm./liter of sugar
Extra Brut – dry – less than 6 grams/liter
Brut – dry – less than 12 grams/liter
Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra Seco – a bit sweeter – 12-20 grams/liter
Dry, Sec, Seco – 17-35 grams/liter
Demi-Sec, Semi Seco – very sweet – 33-50 grams/liter
Doux, Sweet, Dulce – lusciously sweet – 50+ grams/liter
Champagne Bottle Sizes
Split – 187 ml.
Half-bottle – 375 ml.
Bottle – 750 ml.
Magnum – 1.5 Liters (2 Bottles)
Jeroboam – 3.0 L (4 Bottles)
Methuselah – 8 Bottles
Salmanazar – 12 Bottles
Balthazar – 16 Bottles
Nebuchadnezzar – 20 Bottles
Vintages, Styles, Producers
Vintage – a single harvest year
Tête de Cuvée – the luxury top-of-the-line for a Champagne house
NV – non vintage – usually the signature or house style of a Champagne house
RM (a “Grower Champagne” meaning Récoltant-Manipulant) – a grower owns his/her own vineyards and makes his/her own Champagne.
NM – (meaning Négociant-Manipulant) appears on the labels of large Champagne houses that source the majority of their grapes from growers.
CM – (meaning Coopérative-Manipulant) is a co-operative of growers who blend their Champagne from their collective vineyards.
RC – (meaning Récoltant-Coopérateur) is a wine sourced from a single grower but made for them entirely by a cooperative.
SR – (meaning Société de Récoltants) is a registered firm set up by two or more growers who share a winery they use to make wine under their own labels. There is significant involvement of the grower in the winemaking process.
Blanc de Blancs – made from all white grapes: (white from white) Chardonnay grapes
Blanc de Noirs – made from all red grapes (white from black) Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes
Schramsberg Vineyards 2008 Vintage, Napa Valley $150
Wine Enthusiast 96 Points, Wine Spectator 93 Points. Schramsberg is a premium Napa Valley producer, and this is their signature wine. This sparkling wine features aromas of Marasca cherry, Red Delicious apple and notes of toasted brioche. Concentrated flavors of fresh strawberry, balanced with tangy raspberry, envelope the subtle nuances of almond paste and Meyer lemon curd. The palate provides an acidic backbone that supports the wine’s supple and creamy texture, leading into a long, lingering finish.
Wine Spectator 95 Points. This is a floral and creamy Champagne, and is often referred to as the King of Champagne.
Wine Spectator 95 points. A graceful, minerally version, featuring rich notes of smoke, mandarin orange peel and chalk that lead to subtle accents of crème de cassis, toasted almond, espresso and star anise on the fine, creamy mousse. Seamlessly knit, with citrusy acidity leaving a mouthwatering impression on the finish. Drink it now through 2031.
Best Value and Unusual Sparklers
NV, from New Mexico $16
Wine & Spirits 90 Points. This rich and toasty sparkler features a 2-year aging minimum. A fine salmon color with lovely raspberry fruit accompanying the toasty character.
NV, Tasmania Sparkling Wine $25
90 Points Wine Spectator. This sparkler has a pink with a touch of salmon and is creamy on the finish. This wine is blended with 68% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay, and 6% Pinot Meunier.
Western Cape, South Africa $18
Robert Parker, 89 Points. This NV Brut Rose is a blend of 54% Pinot Noir and 46% Chardonnay with 5.7 grams per liter of residual sugar. It offers attractive scents of red cherries and a punnet of strawberries on a summer’s day. There is a fine delineation and focus here, if not the complexity you might expect in a top-flight Rosé. The palate is well balanced with commendable weight and volume in the mouth. This is not a shy retiring flower, but a flavor-packed sparkling Rosé that should delight for the next 3-4 years.