Your Top Ten Champagne Questions Answered

Dosnon

Just in time for Christmas, Max answers ten common questions about the most celebratory wine of all...

1. WHY DOES SOME CHAMPAGNE SHOW THE VINTAGE WHILE SOME DOES NOT?

Very often you find so called non-vintage Champagne (NV). A non-vintage Champagne is made from a blend of wine that comes from different years. The advantage is that the winemaker can ensure, through blending, that taste and aroma is consistent over the years. It gives the Champagne house its unique style. The grapes for a vintage Champagne, on the other hand, come only from one year’s harvest. Vintage Champagne is also made only in good years, as no other wines can be blended in - improving the quality.

 

2. HOW SHOULD I STORE MY CHAMPAGNE?

The same as other wines that you buy. The most important things are light and temperature. Make sure that the wine is kept in a cool, slightly humid place, and always away from bright light. If possible lay the bottle down horizontally, which keeps the cork moist and prevents it from drying out and turning brittle.

 

3. HOW LONG CAN I KEEP AN OPEN BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE AT HOME?

Hopefully you never have to encounter a moment in which you are faced with the dilemma of not finishing your Champagne. If you do, then make sure you seal the bottle with a Champagne stopper (or anything else that might be of help). Place it in the fridge and it should last you anywhere between 3-5 days before going flat.

 

4. DOES CHAMPAGNE GO WELL WITH FOOD?

Yes! Think of Champagne as your all-day wine companion. If you haven’t had a Champagne breakfast yet then it is time you do. Champagne goes great with Eggs Benedict for example. If you like sushi and don’t want to drink sake, then Champagne is an ideal alternative, and of course there is the all-time classic pairing option of Champagne and Oysters Rockefeller. Champagne is extremely versatile and exciting, and as with any other wine you should always experiment a little. You will be surprised at how many unexpected wine and food pairings there are. I personally love to drink vintage Champagne with grilled chicken.

 

5. I DON’T HAVE ANY CHAMPAGNE FLUTES AT HOME, WHAT DO I DO?

First of all: don’t worry! Champagne flutes are an obvious (and admittedly beautiful) choice for Champagne, but not essential. These flutes showcase the fine bubbles better than any other glass, and preserve them better as well. However, many sommeliers and Champagne houses prefer using wider glasses for their Champagne. Use a white wine glass, or for older vintage Champagnes a wide Burgundy glass. Remember, at the end of the day Champagne is a wine.

 

6. WHAT DOES ‘GROWER CHAMPAGNE’ MEAN?

Most Champagne we find in the UK is made by a larger ‘Champagne house’, who produce hundreds of thousands of bottles, sometimes even millions of bottles. Often these so called ‘Grandes Marques’ are of very good quality, but just not as personal as the grower Champagnes that we sell, for example, at Roberson. Grower Champagne means that the grape growers make and sell their own Champagne. Quantities are much smaller, often the grapes are picked by hand, and it is easier to find out exactly how and where the wines were made. At Roberson we have decided to focus on those smaller, high quality grower Champagnes with a great reputation, such as Egly-Ouriet and Arteis.

 

7. HOW DO I OPEN A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE?

First loosen the cage. Always remember to point the bottle away from people and yourself (you do not want to experience the force of a Champagne cork). Next, hold the bottle at a 45° angle and start to rotate the base of the bottle while holding the cork and cage firmly until the pressure of the wine begins to push the cork out.

 

8. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHAMPAGNE AND OTHER SPARKLING WINE LIKE PROSECCO OR CAVA?

The short answer is that for a wine to be called Champagne, it has to come from the region of Champagne in France. In addition, the only grapes that are allowed during production of the wine are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grape varieties), as well as Chardonnay (a white variety). Most are a blend of all three grapes, however if you see ‘Blanc de Blancs’ on the label, the wine is made 100% from Chardonnay. ‘Blanc de Noir’, on the other hand, means that the wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two.

Finally, Champagne is always produced using the Méthode Champenoise. The main aspect is that in the Méthode Champenoise more yeast and sugar is added to the bottled wine, which leads to a second fermentation. The yeast slowly dries, forming a sediment called lees, which the wine rests on and develops its typical aromas of brioche and biscuit, while still having aromas of lemon, apple or strawberry. The bottle is gradually tipped and spun, so that the lees are collected at the bottle neck. Once the bottle is flash-frozen and the lees are popped out during in the process, the wine is sealed and ready to be aged and then eventually drunk.

 

9. IS ALL CHAMPAGNE THE SAME?

No! There are several different styles of Champagne. Apart from vintage and grower differences, the wine can, as explained earlier, be a single grape variety or a blend between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Besides the usual Champagne you can also find rosé Champagne. These usually have soft aromas of strawberries and are a little fruitier. Finally the designation ‘Brut’, indicating that a wine is dry, can be replaced by ‘Extra Brut’ and ‘Brut Nature’, which means that they are even drier (see some of the Egly-Ouriet we carry). On the other hand ‘Demi-Sec’ and ‘Sec’ indicate that the Champagne is semi sweet or sweet. These wines are fantastic food pairing options for spicier courses and dessert.

 

10. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DRINK CHAMPAGNE?

The ideal serving temperature for Champagne is 8 – 10°C and is consumed best on special occasions such as Christmas, New Year, anniversaries or simply with your friends and family. The more we think about it - virtually any occasion can call for a glass of Champagne.

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