All About Wine: Champagne 101

Champagne 101 by Pretty Mayhem(1)

‘All about wine’ is a series in which we discuss all there is to know and love about wine from how to taste it like a pro, to how match it with awesome cheeses and even how to cellar it (if you have that kind of willpower).

If you’ve been reading Pretty Mayhem for a while, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that champagne is my ultimate favorite drink. In fact, if I had to guess which word comes up the most on this blog I’m pretty sure that it would be right up there. ‘Champagne’ and  ‘Food’ of course. What can I say? You can take the French girl out of France…

The thing that I love the most about champagne is that it’s synonymous with celebrations. The sound of a popping cork alone conjures up memories of good times with friends, fabulous New Year’s eve parties and many other major life events.

If you enjoy champagne as much as I do and are keen to learn more about it, here’s a little Champagne 101 guide for your wine-loving pleasure.

What’s in a name?

  • French people are very protective of their beloved bubbly and as such only wines that have been made in the actual  Champagne region of France can legally be called as such. Everything else is simply called ‘sparkling wine’.
  • Champagne is typically made from a mix of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sometimes Pinot Meunier grapes. A ‘Blanc de Blanc‘ is made with only Chardonnay grapes and a ‘Blanc De Noir‘ contains only black grapes. Put simply, Rosé champagne is made from either adding a little red wine to the clear base wine (before it contains bubbles) or by briefly macerating the dark grape skins in the juice.
  • Champagne styles usually range from: doux and demi-sec (on the sweeter side), to sec and extra sec (dry), through to Brut and Zero Dozage (very dry). Common aromas found in champagne are: bread, yeast, apple, cream, sweet pastry, and vanilla.
  • Most champagnes are made from blending grapes from different years to ensure consistency. The odd ‘Vintage’ bottles are made using grapes from the same (and usually exceptional) year.

There are many fabulous champagnes out there but some of my personal favorites are Perrier Jouet, Pol Roger, and Laurent Perrier rosé. I would never say no to a vintage Krug or Dom Perignon either of course ;)

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Sparkling Alternatives

Even though real champagne is limited to a particular region, there are many other great sparkling wines being produced around the world, such as:

  • Cava from Spain
  • Prosecco from Italy
  • Sparkling wines from California, Australia and New Zealand
  • Crémant from France

All have their own characteristics and thankfully most are typically much more affordable than traditional champagne. If you’re looking for something similar to champagne – but without the hefty price tag – then look for the words ‘methode traditionelle‘ on the label – this means that wine was made using the same process as champagne.

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How to store, chill and serve champagne

  • Champagne should be stored on its side in a cool space, away from drafts and direct sunlight. A bottle can be enjoyed on the year of its release but can also be kept for several years.
  • Champagne was originally served in coupes (legend says that the first ones were designed after Marie Antoinette’s breasts but it’s unlikely). However, champagne is now mainly served in tall narrow flutes to prevent its bubbles from disappearing too quickly. Lately, some wine pros have been leaning towards wider glasses instead as they say it allows the wine to deliver more of its aromas. Like all things wine, it ultimately comes down to your preference.
  • Champagne should be served cold at about 45-50F (7 C). If you haven’t got time to chill a wine in the fridge for three hours, then use either of these two tricks: wrap the champagne bottle in a wet tea towel and put in in the freezer for 15 min or fill a bucket with ice, a little salt and water and then slowly spin the bottle in the icy mix for at least 5 min.

Although it’s fun to loudly pop a cork across the room it can also be a little dangerous and result in spilling champagne everywhere (a real tragedy if you ask me). To open a bottle of champagne like a pro:

  • Remove the foil wrapper around the top of the bottle by using the designated pull out tab. Then, keeping your thumb or the palm of your hand firmly over the cork, untwist the wire cage and gently loosen it (you can then either leave it on or carefully remove it).
  • With your hand still wrapped around the cork, hold the bottle at a 45° angle away from you and start to gently rotate the base of the bottle using your other hand . Keep applying a bit of pressure on the cork as it starts to push out so that it gently ‘slides out’ instead of ‘pops’ (unless you want it to – to hell with pros and their rules!).
  • To serve – add a little splash of champagne to the glass first, let the bubbles dissipate and then fill it to 2/3 full (or 1/3 if using regular wine glasses).

Use a special champagne sealer to keep your champagne for a couple of days after opening. Trust me, the old teaspoon trick doesn’t work.

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Champagne and food pairings

Champagne goes with a wide array of food dishes but it is especially great with light appetizers, cheese and seafood. Strawberry is another popular match whilst sweet desserts are usually better served with sweeter champagne styles.

Poultry and champagne can also work well together but avoid serving bubbly with red meat if you can.

I hope you found this mini guide useful – are you a champagne (or sparkling wine) lover like me? If so, I’d love to know about your favorite brands and if you have any other tips to share?!


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