The Romantic Yet Particular Details of Champagne

Last week, we touched on some basic information about sparkling
wines and the production process of making champagne, known as the
éthode champenoise.
Last week, we touched on some basic information about sparkling wines and the production process of making champagne, known as the méthode champenoise.

Champagne is an under-utilized wine. We seem to think that only a special occasion or celebration merits opening a bottle. In fact, champagne is the perfect accompaniment to many foods and a great way to get the taste buds going before a meal – brunch, lunch or dinner.

A few months ago, I talked about stemware in this column. Champagne is a wine that should be served in a particular type of glass. There are two traditional choices: a flute and a coupe. A flute is a narrow, tall-stemmed glass, and a coupe is a short, saucer-shaped glass often seen at weddings. The flute is the ideal choice, and I would strongly recommend that the coupe not be used. You’ll get thrown for a loop with the coupe.

The flute enhances the flow of bubbles, also known as beads, to the top of the glass. In this case, a crystal flute would be the best-case scenario. The rougher surface texture of crystal, as opposed to glass, creates more bubbles. This not only is appealing to the eye, but it also helps concentrate the aromas of the champagne.

Champagne should be served at about 45 degrees. This temperature can be achieved by putting the champagne in your refrigerator for about three hours, or you can give the bottle an ice bath for 20 to 30 minutes. Like other wines, champagne’s true flavor is hindered if served too cold or too warm.

The first time I opened a bottle of champagne, I was working in a restaurant and the staff was going through training. I was not seasoned and not paying attention. Even though I did as instructed, which was to point the cork away from people, I did not realize I was only 3 feet from a wall.

Pushing the cork with my thumbs (a no-no), the cork exploded out of the bottle and ricocheted off the wall, smacking my glasses off my face. No kidding. I felt like that kid in the movie “A Christmas Story” – I almost shot my eye out!

Some people are intimidated by the thought of opening a bottle of champagne. It is actually easy with a little practice and if done in the right way.

The champagne cork is covered by a thin layer of foil and a mueselet, which is a wire cage. Peel back the foil just enough to expose the wire. The wire has a small, circular handle. Grasp the handle and twist counter-clockwise to release the wire cage. They say six (twists) does the trick!

Make sure to keep a hand firmly on the cork at all times and keep the bottle pointed away from you, others and walls. The pressure behind the cork clocks in around 70 pounds-per-square inch, so be careful.

With the cork firmly grasped in one hand, slowly twist the bottle in one direction with your other hand. That’s the secret to success: Twist the bottle, not the cork.

You want to have very little “pop” when opening the champagne. This goes against everything we have seen on the big screen, but by minimizing the pop, you retain more bubbles in the champagne.

Another pratfall to avoid is pouring the champagne too fast into the flutes. The highly carbonated champagne is prone to bubble up quickly, and overflow happens all the time. This is not attractive, and it wastes good wine. Do not try to fill your glass with one pour. This is a common mistake.

Try this approach: Pour an ounce or so into a glass. While this is settling, move over to your other glasses and do the same. Come back to the glasses and slowly fill to about two-thirds full.

A couple of my favorite food pairings with champagne are fresh fruit and spicy food. The fruit accentuates the flavors you often find in champagne, such as oranges, golden apples and honey. Spicy foods give you that nice contrast and added zip.

Gentlemen, give this a try sometime if you want your wife or girlfriend to fall in love with you all over again: Surprise her with breakfast in bed. Serve some great champagne with scrambled eggs and chorizo, potato cakes, fresh scones with marmalade and ripe, red strawberries. Add a few roses to the mix and you are set – a small gesture that will say how much you care and how you feel to be with her.


Bottle of the Week

Léal Vineyards, Hollister

Wine: Carnaval (2003)

Price: $24

Grape: Meritage wine, blend of cabernet, merlot and malbec

Flavors: Ripe blackberry, distinct chocolate and coffee overtones

Where: The wine can be purchased at the winery, 300 Maranatha Drive in Hollister, as well as local restaurants and liquor stores. The winery can be reached at (831) 636-1023. Tastings are from 11am to 5pm daily.