Champagne is an oft-misunderstood beverage. The processes by which it is formed, its taste, and even its naming conventions can baffle even a seasoned wine aficionado. While champagne may mystify experienced imbibers and practiced gourmands alike, the basics behind how it is classified are quite simple to understand.
Just as many types of wine are categorized by their flavor profiles, champagnes too are often classified according to how they taste. All champagnes can be categorized according to their level of dryness. This quality is inversely related to sugar content and corresponding sweetness. This means that less sweet champagnes are invariably drier than sweeter varieties. Wine connoisseurs, it must be said, tend to value the sophistication of drier varieties over the simple pleasures of sweet champagnes.
Whether you are carefully selecting a champagne for a celebration, or simply trying to find the one most suitable for your weekday meal, you can use the following categories to guide your purchase:
- Extra Dry
- Extra Brut
If you were seeking a sweet, sugary champagne, you would do well to purchase a Doux or Demi-sec variety. These sorts of champagnes pair well with fruits and desserts. Their natural sweetness can harmonize well with either and provide your guests with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion to their meals. In addition, if you are feeling bold, you can successfully pair a Doux or Demi-sec with a salty dish. The natural sweetness of these champagnes complements the salty flavors in Asian and Latin American dishes, further enlivening them on the palate.
Extra Brut and Brut (pronounced “broot“) are dry varieties and tend to pair better with entrees and cheeses than do Doux and Demi-sec champagnes. Extra Brut champagnes function best as aperitifs. They are best served before a meal when their natural tartness and astringency can be used to stimulate the appetite. Brut champagne, which has a crisp, bracing dryness leavened with subtly sugary notes, is the most popular of all champagne varieties. It is versatile and can accompany either entrees or desserts successfully. Extra Brut and Brut champagnes can, in fact, make admirable accompaniments to subtly sweet desserts. They make excellent companions to desserts containing dark and semi-sweet chocolate, as well as fruit-based sweets.
While champagnes are commonly classified according to the dryness-sweetness scale outlined above, there are a range of characteristics you can you use to help you select just the right champagne for any occasion. All champagnes can reasonably be said to possess apple, pear, citrus, cream, vanilla, and nutty notes in their flavor profiles. Generally, however, fruitier notes tend to prevail in New World champagnes while their Old World opposites feature creamy, yeasty and nut-like flavors. Old World varieties are often more subtle, while New World champagnes can possess a forward and assertive sweetness that makes them suitable as dessert wines or for celebrations.
Champagne has an undeserved reputation for unsophistication. It is irreducibly associated with sweetness and, as a result, often paired only with foods complementing this dimension of its often complex flavor profile. Champagne is typically paired with chocolates, fruits, and cheese and while these pairings are not misguided they do tend to foreground only one aspect of the beverage’s multifaceted personality. Champagne, if selected carefully, can be paired with many different food items. It is neither less sophisticated nor less versatile than wine. One needs only to understand its flavor spectrum to incorporate it into any occasion.