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All About Champagne

It wouldn't be a celebration without a bottle of the fizzy stuff. Here's the inside scoop on the bubbly.
Tips and Tidbits

It wouldn’t be New Year’s without opening a bottle of the fizzy stuff. But must you reach for a top French Champagne? What’s the best way to pop the cork? Can you freeze a bottle for a quick chill?

Rather than worry about protocol, check out our helpful pointers. Then go out and try some, using our best buys as a guide. They’ll prove you can get a good Champagne or sparkling wine at any price you can swallow. In fact, our picks range from $14 to $52 (look for seasonal deals, too). All are dry or “brut,” and all are ideal with the Parmesan Crisps, Fried Olives, and Garlicky Beef Tips (see Marvelous Munchies on page 3). They’re available nationwide, or go to to order.

Fizz Facts

Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines can be called Champagne. This name belongs only to those wines from the Champagne region of France, about 90 miles northeast of Paris. Many excellent non-Champagne sparkling wines are produced elsewhere in France as well as in Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, the United States, and South America.

Both true Champagnes and fine sparkling wines are made using the best, most painstaking process of carbonation: methode champenoise. Check the label for this designation of quality. The wine undergoes a double fermentation inside the bottle to create tiny bubbles for maximum effervescence. After a period of aging to develop more complexity and body, the champagne is ready to enjoy.

Bubbly Basics

Whether you bring home a true French Champagne or other sparking wine, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Chilling: Never store bubbly in the fridge and don’t freeze it for a quick cool down. Too cold a temperature hampers the sparkle and flavor; also, freezing can cause the bottle to explode. Refrigerate the bottle on its side for a maximum of four hours before pouring, or cool in a bucket of ice and water for about 20 minutes.
  • Popping: Hold bottle at a 45-degree angle, pointing away from you, guests, and breakables. With your finger on the cork, remove the foil and wire cage, and gently twist the bottle -- not the cork -- in one direction. The cork should ease itself out. Some people find that covering the cork with a towel makes the process even easier.
  • Serving: To help preserve the magical bubbles, pour your bubbly into narrow glasses -- flutes or tulips -- with long stems. Remember to grasp the stem when sipping; holding the bowl of the glass warms the wine more quickly, causing it to lose its fizz.

Label Lingo

In addition to the term methode champenoise, other descriptive words give you clues about what you’re buying:

  • SPUMANTE Sparkling (Italian)
  • CREMANT Sparkling (French)
  • CUVEE The base wine or wines used for the product. Dozens of different base wines are sometimes blended.

Flavors of bubblies go from toasty to yeasty. There are also varying levels of dryness. These terms tell you where a product fits into the dry-to-sweet range.

  • BRUT Virtually bone dry; the most popular choice.
  • EXTRA DRY A hint of sweetness.
  • SEC Medium sweet.
  • DEMI SWEET Sweeter still; best for dessert.
  • DOUX Very sweet; use only for dessert.

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