How to Open a Bottle of Champagne

how-to-open-a-bottle-of-champagne

A bottle of bubbly is the height of sophistication, but to put a twist to a great quote of our generation- with great style comes great responsibility. Being properly able to open a bottle of champagne is an art and fumbling at it will dissolve all your good reputation of charismatic host. In fact, a faux pas in opening this drink may be considered a travesty in some circles. So before you introduce this gem of your alcohol collection, learn a trick or two to do justice to the hundred dollar bottle.

The Proper Way

There are actually not many variations of the normal, proper way of opening a bottle of bubbly, even though hosts often try to alter the steps to wow their guests. But if you are of the more traditional mold, here are the steps to follow:

Make sure the champagne is chilled and calm. There is usually a gold foil wrapped around the cork of the bottle. Tease it out and remove the foil.

Keep the cork pointed away from you (and unsuspecting guests) so that it doesn’t pop out and take out someone’s eye.

You will see a wire frame over the cork which is intended to prevent accidental uncorking, which may occur due to pressure build-up. Loosen the cage and undo it. Also, keep a thumb firmly over the cork to prevent unpleasant surprises.

Put a towel over the cork. Now holding the cork stationary, gently turn the bottle by holding the base. In this way, you get to ease the cork off instead of popping it out. This is definitely less theatrical than popping the cork out, followed by a generous gush of champagne, but it does not waste any of the golden liquid.

Pour the champagne quickly into glasses, but make sure you pour it gently by the side and not splash it down. This way you will not lose the bubbles.

After pouring into each glass, do a quick turn of the bottle a bit to catch the liquid dripping down the lip of the bottle.

Sabrage

This is a tradition of opening a champagne bottle with a sword or a knife and it originated in France in the era of Napoleon. It is a widely popular party trick and is one of the coolest ways to open a champagne bottle. But unlike the popular opinion, it does not require great skill nor is it highly dangerous. Well, not unless you are doing it way wrong. Here’s the how-to:

Remove the foil.

Run a finger below the lip of the bottle and you will find a seam because champagne bottles are made of two pieces of glass.

Slide the dull edge of the knife on the seam from bottom.

In one fluid and mildly forceful motion, slide the knife from the bottom to the neck and pop. If you hold the bottle in a forty five degree angle, there will be little spill and there is no glass breakage.

So there you have, a proper way and a fun way to open a champagne bottle.

Champagne Grapes: What Types of Grapes are Used?

champagne grapesChampagne is widely used in many occasions and in many countries. There are many styles of champagne as well as types. In fact they are designed to please a variety of taste preferences. It is also best known for its bubbly appearance and taste. All champagnes have one thing in common, they are made with grapes. The many various vineyards, mainly in France, grow specific varieties especially for champagne.

What is champagne and what is it made of?

Champagne is a white sparkling wine. It is usually associated with luxury. It is typically made in France. There are rules in the making of champagne that demand there be a secondary fermentation of a wine in a bottle to create the carbonation so well known in champagne.

Champagne is, generally, made up of a complex bending of wines. It is not just made from a blend of grape varieties but of wines. Usually, these wines area from vineyards throughout regions of France known for Champagne. Also, these wines tend to be a blend of different vintages.

What grapes are used in making champagne?

When champagne is made there are three primary grape varieties used. These champagne grapes add different components. The three grape varieties used most are:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Chardonnay

There are a few grape varieties that may still be used in champagne, although rarely. Petit Meslier, Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc are among those still permitted in the making of champagne. However, they can not be replanted and have little to do with the process anymore.

What do these varieties add to a champagne?

Pinot Noir is a red type of grape. The components in this variety add structure, body, and aroma. It also adds to the complexity of the flavors in the champagne. Pinot Noir is viewed by most of its producers as one of the finer grapes.

Pinot Meunier is also of the red variety and is related to the Pinot Noir. This grape tends to contribute to the readiness of a champagne. Usually these champagne types can be consumed sooner than other types of champagne. Pinot Meunier adds to the fuitiness of the drink. It also effects the floral aromas.

The Chardonnay is a white grape. This is said to be the star in the Champagne region. Its components give elegance and finesse to the champagne. It also contributes to the freshness and delicacy. Chardonnay is used often in the most prestigious Champagnes.

The components and attention to detail in the flavoring of champagne is what makes it most appealing to many enthusiasts. This is why champagne is so often seen in special occasions and with luxurious gatherings.

Champagne Glasses

champagne-glasses

Few things can symbolize a very special occasion better than a chilled bottle of champagne. From  intimate dinner parties to wedding dinners, it is the wine of choice when only the best will do. And for true wine lovers the style of glass can enhance or detract from your experience. What kind of glass will work best for you?

The Coupe

This classic shape, a wide rim and short stem, is best associated with the 1920’s flappers or the 1960’s. The glass was designed in 17th century England specifically for drinking champagne. However, the glasses were designed for what were really dessert wines, not the fine wines of the current day.

Critics of the coupe shape, or saucers as they are often called, suggest that the wide bowl is so broad that the carbonation falls flat too quickly. And, with the bubbles falling flat, the aroma is also lost.

For wine connoisseurs and those who love the bubbles, this glass style is not your best choice. If you love the history associated with the glass, then sip quickly and enjoy.

The Tulip

This style of glass is similar in design to he flute, but it has a wider base and he rim is curved inward. Unlike the coupe, wine connoisseurs highly recommend this glass because of its ability to retain your wine’s exquisite flavor.

The round bowl at the bottom of the glass keeps  helps to keep the flavor preserved as you sip your wine. The medium- to long-stemmed glass also keeps your fingers from touching the bowl where the champagne is preventing your fingerprints from warming the wine.

The Flute

The flute overtook the coupe shape because of how well it captures the flavor of the champagne. With a medium or long stem, you can hold the glass without altering the wine’s temperature, and  the glass is the perfect shape for the perfect sip.

The shape of the flute gives the right serving amount to keep it cold, aromatic, and bubbly. The flute glass maintains the effervescence after pouring so the bubbles and aroma stay in the glass. And when the bubbles stay in the glass, you can enjoy the bubbly taste and your glass will be more pleasing to look at.

The Stemless

The latest trends in new glass design include a stemless glass. This bowl-shaped glass enhances the taste and the aroma. Since your fingers are on the bowl warming the champagne, critics still prefer the flute.

The critics agree that the flute is your best choice. But take your time to sample them all to find a style that you love as much as your champagne.

What is Assemblage?

what is assemblageAssemblage is the most important part of making champagne. This is the art of wine making, using a mixture of wines between the first and second fermentation that will determine the taste and quality of the final product.

Fermentation

True Champagne comes from a region of Northern France that has used that name for centuries. The process of producing quality sparkling wines started in that region and spread to different parts of the world.

The champagne process starts with different varieties of the grapes used mainly in white wines. Grape varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are squeezed in a pressoir coquart.

A thin layer of grapes goes into the press so that the juice does not come into contact with the skins. A press will squeeze 4,000 liters of juice but only the first 2,050 liters are used in assemblage for the cuvee that will eventually become a Champagne or sparkling wine. This is the juice that will be poured into a tank for the first fermentation.

The best fermentation has very little sugar. The sweeter taste is added with the assemblage.

Creating the wine

Assemblage is the blending of various non vintage fermented base wines to create the taste that will become the unique cuvee created by the winemaker. More than 70 different varieties of fermented grapes can be used to create a champagne blend.

A seasoned winemaker will be able to taste and smell that special combination of flavors needed for the blend. The winemaker will know the right chemical balance of varietal grapes required for the ideal second fermentation.

Many winemakers blend the newly fermented juice with reserved stocks of older wine to create their special cuvee. This also helps the new sparkling wine age faster. The blending with older wines can also give the new wine more body and fullness.

Added sugar, yeast and the wine create the liqueur de triage that will be put in bottles and capped with a regular bottle cap. These bottles go into a special rack called a pupitre for the second fermentation. This mixture will create the champagne that will be offered for sale.

Second fermentation

The second fermentation allows the wines from the assemblage to mix and age together with carbon dioxide. A cool champagne fermentation cellar will foster smaller bubbles for a more consistent effervescence.

The remuage process that turns the wine bottles upside down allows all of the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle. The wine is aged in this position for 15 to 30 months.

The sediment is removed with the disgorgement process that puts only the neck of the bottle into a freezing brine. The cap is removed and the frozen sediment pops out along with some of the wine.

The top of the bottle is refilled with liqueur d’expedition. This is the dosage, the amount of sugar the winemaker feels is needed to balance the acidity level. Some blends require more sugar than others.

Acidity mellows over time. A sparkling wine that is aged longer in the second fermentation does not require as much sugar as a younger wine.

The assemblage and the fermentation processes developed in the Champagne region of France are used all over the world from California to Argentina to Australia and South Africa. This is the best method for producing fine sparkling wines that may be known generically as champagne.

Champagne Bottle Sizes

champagne-bottle-sizesIt is always a wonderfully relaxing experience to enjoy a flavorful glass of champagne alone or with one of your favorite meals. There are many things that contribute to your enjoyment of champagne. One of those things is the way in which champagne is fermented.

The Process

The initial process of making champagne is similar to that of making most wines. Grapes are picked and fermented. A second process takes place inside the champagne bottle. Yeast and sugars are added to the fermented grapes and the combination is stored inside the champagne bottle to undergo the second fermenting process (aging). It is during this process that the size of the champagne bottle can have a effect on the quality and taste of champagne that is produced.

Champagne bottle sizes

The size of champagne bottles began to vary in the 1700s. As the sizes of bottles varied it was discovered that larger bottles have to have a few advantages to the smaller champagne bottle sizes. Aesthetically, the larger bottles seem to be more appealing to champagne drinkers. The larger bottles allow for better aging of the champagne. The different sizes of champagne bottles each have a different name with a different meaning. The list of champagne bottle names follows:

Piccolo means small. It is the smallest size of champagne bottle that you will find. It holds one tulip of champagne.

Demi is a 375 ml bottle for champagne. You will be able to pour at least 3 flute glasses of champagne.

Bottle is the standard sized bottle from which you will enjoy 6 glasses of champagne.

Magnum means “great” in Latin. It is seen by the producers of champagne as a “great” bottle to use to age champagne. You will enjoy at least 12 glasses of champagne from the Magnum.

Jeroboam holds about 24 glasses of champagne. The name comes from the first king who ruled the Northern Kingdom in Israel. The name means, “he increases the people”.

Rehoboam is also named after a king who, during the 10th Century BC, ruled over the Kingdom of Judah. The name means, “he who enlarges the people”. This bottle contains 36 glasses of champagne.

Methuselah is named after a person of the Bible who is said to have lived longer than any other person. This bottle contains 64 glasses of champagne.

Salmanazar holds a total of 72 glasses of champagne which is equal to about 12 bottles of champagne. The name is a combination of names from five different Assyrian kings.

Balthazar holds 96 glasses of champagne, approximately 16 bottles. Named after an Arabian King who was present after the birth of Jesus and presented him with gifts.

Nebuchadnezzar contains 120 glasses of champagne. It is named for one of the most powerful kings of Babylon.

Solomon is a rare bottle of champagne. It is usually only found in champagne houses in France. The amount of champagne this bottle contains is debatable, however the popular amount accepted is 144 glasses of champagne.

Sovereign holds 34 bottles of champagne.

Primat contains the equivalent of 36 bottles of champagne and weighs about 143 pounds.

Melchizedek, the final bottle of champagne, contains 40 bottles of champagne.

What is Champagne Disgorgement?

what-is-champagne-disgorgement

Disgorgement is the process of eliminating the sediment from Champagne and sparkling wine before it is corked and ready for sale. The disgorgement date has nothing to do with the age of the sparkling wine or when it was put on sale.

The French term is degorgementThis is an important step in producing sparkling wines that probably has its origins in the Champagne district in France. The wine is fermented a second time for at least 15 months to three years, depending on the winemakers. The dead yeast cells resulting from the fermentation are called lees in English. The process is called aging sur lies in French.

The neck of the wine bottle is racked at an angle so that the sediments, including the dead yeast cells, collect in that part of the bottle as the wine ages. The bottles are racked with a freezing brine around the neck that makes sediment removal very easy. The bubbles help push the lees out of the neck and the dosage is added before it is securely corked and ready for sale. The disgorgement is one of the final steps in the process of making Champagne and other sparkling wines.

Dosage

This refers to the amount of sugar added to the wine before it is sold. Yes, sugar is added to French Champagne and other sparkling wines to give them more flavor and balance the acidity. The Extra Brut or dry sparkling wine has less than 6 grams of sugar per liter (g/l). The Brut, that has 6 to 15 g/l of residual sugar, is still very dry.

Wines with Sec designations usually have 16 g/l or more of sugar. An Extra Sec has up to 20 g/l of sugar. This makes the wine tastier to people who want a sparkling wine with a degree of sweetness. Demi-sec can have up to 50 g/l and Doux is the sweetest wine with more than 51 g/l of sugar. These are usually considered sparkling wines served with dessert.

Cuvee

This is the finished batch of sparkling wine. Champagne and other bubbly wines will not always be disgorged at the same time. A batch or cuvee with one date may taste different from bottles disgorged and prepared for sale at a later date. This system is now used for sparkling wines made in the United States and other countries.

If you are a knowledgeable wine consumer, you will be aware of the differences in the dates. Many people are not aware that the disgorgement date only tells you when the Champagne is prepared for sale. This makes the system open to controversy in the U.S. The good news is that more people who enjoy sparkling wines are now learning about this process so the date is important.

Wine experts advise consumers to buy what they like but to be aware that not all sparkling wines from one vineyard or winemaker will taste the same. Read the labels and experiment to find the sparkling wines you like.

Grape Vine Maturity

grape-vine-maturity

Grapevine cuttings or shoots are usually planted in the spring and take three years to produce grapes that can be used for wine. Climate and soil conditions play an important role in vine growth and grape production.

Nurturing

The young vines must be pampered to grow into mature producers of quality grapes. They need sunlight, irrigated but well drained soil and pruning. The small shoot planted in the spring will grow into a vine with stalks and delicate side canes that should be trained along a trellis.

Wine producing vines are nurtured with smaller trellises and fences that give them room to spread during their second season. The trellis or fence can be metal, wood, rope or any type of line. The vines will wrap themselves around the thin links or slats of the trellis. You can train table grape vines to cover a decorative gazebo or arched structure over three years.

The vine has to be pruned to permit new growth. The stem or trunk grows the first year while new growth appears in the second year. Only four canes or stalks should be allowed to grow from each cutting the first year. Their vines should be trained along the trellis the second year. If you are growing grape vines, you will have to prune about 70% of the vine the first two years.

The vines should begin to sprout leaves and buds that grow into grapes by the third year. Any grapes that appear during the second season are not considered wine quality.

Climate and soil

Different varieties of grapes grow in different climates and soil conditions. All grapes require sunlight during the growing season and soil that is well drained. Rain helps to irrigate the plants but there must be sufficient runoff.

Weather is important in growing vines and determining the quality of wine grapes. Most grapes need cool, moist temperatures. Some grape varieties such as the Pinot Meunier used in champagne like colder weather and bud a little later in the spring. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes traditionally used in champagne blends or cuvees need a slightly warmer environment and chalky limestone soil.

Most grapes are harvested in the fall from late August to early October in the Northern Hemisphere. The sugar level is tested and the grapes picked and processed when they are in their prime, before the first frost.  Some species of grapes in Canada are harvested after the first frost to produce the famous Ice Wine.

Grapes in the Southern Hemisphere are harvested during March. Grapes are grown as far south as Chile and Argentina in the Western Hemisphere. South Africa and Australia are also know for outstanding wine production.

Vines that are well tended and pampered can last for 40 years as long as they are not infested with diseases and rot. Healthy mature vines can produce cuttings and shoots for new planting. Grapes were probably the first fruit cultivated by ancient people and wine is one of the world’s oldest beverages.

Why Are Champagne Corks Made Out of Natural Cork?

why-are-champagne-corks-made-out-of-natural-cork

There’s just something about natural cork. Newer technology may have its devotees, but there’s a good reason why good, old-fashioned cork is used to seal champagne bottles. Even if you set aside years of tradition and the satisfying “pop” you just can’t get with any other material, there are still plenty of benefits to traditional cork over synthetic materials and screw tops.

How It’s Made

Cork actually comes from the bark of the cork tree, which grows primarily in the montado forests of Portugal. Responsible harvesting makes cork a renewable resource, and small teams typically harvest the bark, allowing the trees to survive and the bark to regrow. The cork bark can usually be be harvested again every nine years.

Once harvested, the cork bark is cured, graded, sorted and then processed into natural cork disks and rods of agglomerate cork. The rods are sliced into the individual corks used to seal champagne bottles, with a natural cork disk affixed to each end.

The Natural Cork Difference

The key characteristic of natural cork that makes it perfect for sealing champagne bottles is its ability to expand. Pressure beverages like champagne – along with sparkling wines, ciders and some beers – are bottled at great pressure, and they require a seal that can prevent the escape of gases while at the same time maintaining the perfect gas pressure within the bottle. That’s where natural cork comes in.

When compressed, natural cork expands. The typical cork used to seal a champagne bottle has a diameter of 31 millimeters, but is compressed down to a diameter of 18 millimeters to fit into the bottle neck. Once in place, the cork naturally continues to expand, which allows it to keep constant pressure against the glass bottle neck. This pressure keeps gas from escaping, and makes natural cork the perfect stopper material for a champagne bottle.

That Tell-Tale Shape

You can tell a natural cork has done its job by its shape when you remove it from the bottle. You’ve probably noticed that corks come out of a champagne bottle with a recognizable mushroom shape, but they don’t go in that way. Corks are straight when they are inserted into the neck. The mushroom shape is the result of the lower half of the cork being compressed into the bottle neck, while the upper half continues to expand.

The Trouble With Synthetic Corks

Unlike natural cork, synthetic corks do not expand. They maintain a rigid shape, which can mean a loose fit and imperfect seal in some bottles. Ill-fitting corks can ruin a bottle of perfectly good wine or champagne.

Natural corks are also difficult to remove without a corkscrew, whereas natural corks are designed to be removed from a champagne bottle by hand. Just remember to never point the bottle at yourself or anybody else while you open it. Champagne bottles stopped with natural cork tend to open with a powerful “pop,” sometimes sending the cork flying. It’s a small price to pay for a perfect seal!

How to Buy Budget Friendly Champagne

how-to-buy-budget-friendly-champagne

Your son’s or daughter’s graduation or an expected promotion: both reasons to crack out the the Dom Perignon and celebrate in style.

Sometimes, though, you need a budget-friendly bottle of bubbly or quality sparkling wine to keep the fridge well-stocked on New Year’s Day. With that in mind, here are some tips and great affordable champagnes to check out.

Finding Budget-Conscious Champagnes 

There are definitely some delicious brut champagnes out there that blend affordability, crisp taste and quality.

Roederer Estate Brut, for instance, comes in at around $20 and features a robust, oak-aged fruity essence. It’s bright and citrusy without being overbearing.

http://www.totalwine.com/eng/product/roederer-estate-brut/454750

Another standout brut champagne from California is Gloria Ferrer Sonoma. Like Roaderer Estate, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma blends a fruity essence with smoother notes. In this case, you’re getting a mixture of pear and an almond aftertaste.

http://www.gloriaferrer.com

The secret to these two budget champagne’s is their appellation in California’s vineyards and dedication to quality ingredients. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma starts with nearly two dozen base wines to ultimately give a rich, bubbly and extremely budget-friendly final product.

Wine Spectator magazine even conceded that Gloria Ferrer Sonoma deserved a score in the 90s due to its complex taste that blended pear, cinnamon and raspberry without being overbearing.

Since Gloria Ferrer Sonoma sells for between $15 and $25, you won’t have to break the bank to find out what all the praise is about.

Overall, though, you should keep your eyes peeled for low-cost bruts that bring together an eclectic range of base wines with California appellations.

Nitty-Gritty Specifics to Look For 

Price is obviously a primary consideration when you need a few affordable stand-by (or stand-in) bottles of champagne or you know that quantity is going to trump discernment on, say, a riotous New Year’s celebration.

You should be keeping your eyes peeled for an affordable champagne – under $50 – that draws from a host of quality base wines to form the champagne’s cuvee.

An eclectic range of base wines that undergo two fermentations should also provide more bubbles and ultimately a richer taste. Also be aware that base wines that are tank fermented tend to provide a more airy, fruity taste.

Another thing to keep in mind is that although many brut champagnes tend to have moderate sweetness, there are extra dry champagnes out there that give you more idiosyncratic and interesting honeydew and brioche flavors.

Remember that the majority of budget champagnes tend to be bruts, and make sure you find an affordable champagne that draws from many base wines to bring out a delicious, fruity aftertaste.