It's That Time of Year: Everything You Need to Know About Champagne and Sparkling Wine
In the wine trade, they call it "OND": October-November-December, the last quarter of the Gregorian calendar and the 92 days of the year during which more wine is sold than in any other period of the year.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen. Some of the greatest and most coveted Champagnes are rosés, like this Bollinger Non-Vintage Champagne Rosé, one of my favorite wines of all time.
And from the romantic dinner for two to the whole mispucha blowout, from the company holiday party to the Christmas Eve family get-together, more sparkling wine is served this time of year than in the other months combined.
And, of course, it wouldn't be New Year's Eve unless we tickled our noses and palates with some fine bubbles.
For many of you, the trip to the wine shop or supermarket to pick up that bottle of "Champagne" might be the only time you buy a bottle of sparkling this year. Therefore, I've created the following list to help you navigate the do's-and-don'ts of sparkling wine (and so that you won't feel like an idiot on your way to popping that cork).
1. Know How to Use the Word "Champagne" Correctly.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen. Just because it sparkles doesn't mean that it's "Champagne."
Technically, I should have called this post "Sparkling Wine: 10 Things You Need to Know." But sparkling wine just doesn't sound as sexy as Champagne, does it?
For a wine to be called "Champagne," it must come from the region of Champagne in France and it needs to be made using the proper grapes and technique.
There are myriad kinds of sparkling wines out there: Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, Vouvray, Saumur, Sekt... Don't call it Champagne unless it's Champagne.
Only the French can write méthode champenoise on their sparkling wine (when it's made in Champagne). Other appellations can make wine using the same technique. But then it can only be called "classic method" or "traditional method."
Note that many unscrupulous American winemakers write Champagne on their labels. They are not bound by European Union regulation and so Champagne producers have no way of stopping them.
2. Most Champagne and many other sparkling wines are made from red grapes, not white.
Although some are made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes (Champagne's blanc de blancs or white from white [grape]s), most Champagnes are made from Pinot Noir as the primary grape.
Wine gets its color from the skins of the grapes. For the production of most Champagne, the grapes and skins are separated after pressing. As a result, the wine is "white."
Many sparkling wines from France's Loire valley are also made from red grapes, like Saumur, which is produced using Cabernet Franc.
3. Don't take anyone's eye out when opening a bottle of sparkling wine.
Sparkling wine is pressurized and it's very easy to let a cork slip and fly when opening it. It's a whole barrel of fun until someone loses an eye, as the saying goes.
Remove the foil from the cork. Holding your thumb on the cork, remove the wire cage by twisting it six times (it's always six times). Immediately place your thumb back on the cork after removing the cage. Hold the bottle at a 45° angle, and with your palm securely over the cork, turn the bottle, very slowly, from its base (you don't need to turn the cork). You'll find that the cork will gently pop out.
4. Always have a nice kitchen towel or napkin on hand when opening sparkling wine.
If the wine has been agitated, it might overflow when opened. The towel will also come in handy to wipe the bottle down if it's been in ice. And if you're having trouble turning the bottle when attempting to open it, wrap the towel around the cork and hold it tightly. This will give you some traction.
5. Don't serve sparkling wine too cold.
There's nothing Americans love more than refrigeration. But sometimes we tend to over-chill our wines. Especially when serving expensive, fine Champagne, you don't want to mask its nuance and complexity by serving it too cold.
If it's on ice, let it sit on the table for 10-15 minutes so it's not freezing cold.
We often open sparkling wine in company, and it's consumed relatively quickly. You and your guests will enjoy it more if you serve it at a decent temperature.