It's That Time of Year: Everything You Need to Know About Champagne and Sparkling Wine
6. Clean, rinse, and dry your glasses well before serving the wine.
This maxim holds for all wines, actually. Many of us reserve our best stemware for the holidays. As a result, they sit and collect dust all year. There's nothing worse than spoiling an expensive bottle of sparkling wine with a glass that tastes or smells like dust or detergent. Be prepared for your party by washing and carefully drying your stemware in advance.
7. Forget the flute!
Photo by Jeremy Parzen. Tradition dictates that sparkling wine is served in a flute. But more and more wine professionals are reaching for broader glasses that allow the wine to aerate and the drinker to enjoy the aroma more fully.
Even though tradition dictates that we serve sparkling wine in a flute, there is perhaps no worse vessel for sparkling wine.
While the narrow aperture of the flute helps to concentrate the wine's fizziness, it often makes it harder for the wine to reveal its aromas.
More and more sommeliers are reaching for white wine glasses when they serve sparkling wine.
Don't hesitate to ask your server or sommelier to pour you sparkling wine in a white wine glass. You'll probably enjoy it more. And if they answer you with snark or snobbishness, you're probably in the wrong restaurant, anyway.
If you don't have flutes at home, just use white wine glasses for your sparkling wine. Your guests will thank you.
8. Don't serve fine sparkling wine with sweets or fruit.
Remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere pairs Champagne with strawberries for Julia Roberts? It's enough to make you want to heave.
The greatest sparkling wines are dry wines, and they are often tannic and astringent in nature. As such, they are meant to be served with savory foods.
The sweetness of dessert will overpower the nuance of the fruit flavor in sparkling wine. And the acidity in fruit will create imbalance.
Champagne with oysters? Yes! Champagne with French fries? Yes! Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries? Bad idea, Richard. Sorry.
9. Don't feel that it has to be Champagne.
Let's face it: Champagne is expensive. As much as I love great Champagne (and my wife and I drink a lot of Champagne), it's not the wine we reach for when we're entertaining large groups.
For many people, the holiday season is the only time they drink sparkling wine. A recently disgorged bottle of Bollinger may not make the same impression on them as it does on me.
The holidays are a great time to reach for wines from appellations other than Champagne, like Trento Metodo Classico wines from northern Italy, for example (Ferrari is a favorite of mine).
10. Get a copy of Champagne for Dummies by Ed McCarthy.
I highly recommend reading Champagne for Dummies by Ed McCarthy, one of the greatest Champagne experts in the U.S. today.
It's a great book, and a great place to start when you begin your quest to wrap your mind around Champagne.
Peter Liem's subscription-only guide to Champagne is also an excellent resource for the more advanced.
And Brooklyn Guy's blog is also a great guide to "grower Champagne," a recent movement of small growers who are bottling their wines themselves instead of selling to the big négociant houses. It's a wonderful source of tasting notes and information about some of the more value-driven Champagnes out there.
Stay tuned: I'll be posting my Champagne and Sparkling Wine cheat sheet shortly.