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 wine.com to order.
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.
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.
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.
Best Buys and Creative Combos
- Zardetto Prosecco Vino Spumante ($15, Conegliano Veneto, Italy). Strong nose, tart, small bubbles, good for cocktails.
- Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace ($19, Alsace, France). Crisp yet full-bodied, smooth, lots of small bubbles, nutty, dry finish.
- Domaine Ste. Michelle ($12, Columbia Valley, Washington). Crisp, big bubbles, fruity, easy to drink.
Mumm Napa Sparkling Wine ($19, Napa Valley, California, founded by the French producer G.H. Mumm). Medium-size bubbles, deep flavor, smooth.
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Wine ($25, Carneros Region, California, founded by the French producer Taittinger). Fine bubbles, dry, yet full grape flavor.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($20, Sonoma County, California). Medium-size, long-lasting bubbles, flavors of green apple, sweet with a tart hit.
Worth the Splurge
- Champagne Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label ($45, Reims, France). Yeasty, plenty of fine bubbles, full body, fruity, hint of spice.
- Champagne Perrier Jouet ($52, Epernay, France). Pale color, delicate flavor, sweet up front, dry finish.
- Mumm de Cramant ($66, Reims, France). Lush, rich, almost creamy with a pleasing finish.
Combine a bubbly kick with tasty liqueurs and other ingredients, and you have a champagne cocktail — a celebratory drink that titillates the taste buds as it tickles your tongue. Better yet, because you’re mingling in additional flavors, you can use a modestly priced sparkling wine and still get lovely results.
The Champagne Cosmo sends up a tart note of cranberry while the Classic Cocktail gains a spicy hit from Angostura bitters. If you want something exotic, sip our Passion Fruit Royale. Adding the champagne to these drinks at the last minute will preserve the sparkle, as does chilling the glasses before serving. Garnish with citrus slices or fruit skewers.
Pour 1 ounce vodka, 1 ounce cranberry juice cocktail, and 1/2 ounce orange-flavored liqueur into a glass. Fill with chilled champagne.
Place 1 sugar cube in a glass. Add 2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters and let soak a few minutes; then add chilled champagne. If serving a crowd, soak sugar first, drop into glasses and fill.
Passion Fruit Royale
Pour 1 ounce passion fruit-cognac liqueur and 1 ounce peach nectar in a glass. Fill with chilled champagne.
Crunchy, salty foods are the perfect counterpoint to sparkling wines, and this trio delivers. Each bite of a cheese crisp packs a spicy punch; olives are a surprise beneath a tangy crumb coating. Where’s the beef? On elegant toast points, in a rich sherried sauce.
Makes: 32 crisps. Prep: 10 minutes. Bake: at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes per batch.
- 6 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (freshly grated, not preshredded)
- 1 tablespoon cornmeal
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil. Coat with nonstick cooking spray. In bowl, mix cheese, cornmeal, pistachios, and black and cayenne pepper.
2. For each crisp, spoon 1 level tablespoon cheese mixture, scooping from bottom of bowl, into mound on sheet (6 per sheet). Spread each mound into a 2-1/2- to 3-inch circle, 1/2 inch between each.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. With metal spatula, lift crisps onto wire rack; let cool. If desired, place crisps onto rolling pin to curve. Repeat for total of about 32 crisps.
Make-Ahead Tip: Crisps can be stored airtight at room temperature up to a day.
Makes: about 60 olives. Prep: 10 minutes. Cook: 1 1/2 minutes per batch.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 2 jars (7 ounces each) large pimiento- or garlic-stuffed green olives, drained (about 2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup packaged seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
1. In deep, medium-size saucepan, pour oil to depth of 1 1/2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until oil registers 340 to 350 degrees on deep-fat frying thermometer (or 1-inch bread cube dropped in oil turns brown in 45 seconds).
2. Place olives in bowl. Add flour; toss until evenly coated. In small bowl, beat eggs lightly. In medium-size bowl, combine crumbs, cheese, salt, black pepper, and cayenne.
3. Dip olives in egg, then crumbs. Fry 8 to 10 at a time, 1 1/2 minutes, until golden.
Make-Ahead Tip: Olives can be fried a day ahead, then refrigerated. Reheat on baking sheet at 300 degrees for 7 minutes.
Garlicky Beef Tips
Makes: 8 servings. Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: about 10 minutes.
- 8 slices white bread
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds sirloin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Bibb lettuce, torn into small pieces
1. Lightly toast bread. Cut off crusts; cut slices in half diagonally.
2. In large skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add garlic and sirloin; saute, stirring frequently, until beef is cooked through, 5 minutes. Add sherry; cook for 1 minute.
3. In small bowl, combine broth, flour, salt, pepper, and mustard. Add to skillet; cook, stirring, 2 minutes or until thickened. Serve saucy beef with lettuce and toast.
Make-Ahead Tip: Beef mixture can be made a day ahead. Gently reheat to serve.