Has the California Drought Burst Your Bubbles?

Have a glass of your favorite sparkling wine in hand? Good – savor every drop. Drought and Farming have never been a good word combination, and with California in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the century we should all do a little rain dance for our favorite wine growers and makers. Here’s the good news: the overseas market is so competitive that most wine makers and purveyors won’t be able to raise their prices much at all without the risk of losing customers.

The bad news? If crop yields continue to decline as the result of the drought, some of your favorite vineyards may go out of business. That’s not good for any of us, especially since the first ones to go are the smaller family-run and boutique vineyards that help to keep the wine industry exciting.

California Drought Shouldn’t Affect Your Bubbly Anytime Soon but a Little Rain Would be Nice

Here’s the reality – some vineyards are drying up, others are faring a little better. In an article on wine-searcher.com, Lake County vineyard owner and manager David Weiss said, “I’ve been growing grapes for 20 years, and we haven’t seen anything like this. If we don’t get significant rainfall between now and bud break, the vines are going to suffer.” Growing grapes requires quite a bit of water. In a drought year, the water table shrinks significantly and some wells will actually dry up, forcing grape growers to buy their water, an incredibly expensive endeavor and one that gets agitated neighbors and community members pointing fingers.

“Wine is a luxury, it’s not a necessity,” said Rosemary Bourgault in an interview with Bloomberg’s James Nash. “I love wine. I love the industry,” commented Bourgault, “but we need to protect our water sources, not abuse them. Water is priceless.” This sentiment is one that is shared by many of the residents that live in areas that produce wine grapes. While that opinion is understandable, it’s difficult for long-time family wine growers, many of whom have grown grapes for five generations or more, to hear that their livelihood isn’t worth fighting for or worthy of community support.

Most wine experts agree that although this current drought will come to an end, more dry seasons will be upon us. Climate change predictors show that while areas like Napa’s wine growing regions may dry up, the climate in other areas will become more ripe for growing grapes (pun intended), and that brings a huge sigh of relief for those of us who love to drink sparkling wines.

How Will the Drought Affect California Sparkling Wine Consumers?

So the question remains: “How will the current drought affect California’s sparkling wine industry and its consumers?” Nobody can be 100% sure of the answer, only time and future grape harvests will tell. But here’s what the experts are predicting:

  • For this year, all signs point to a good harvest and that bodes well for the consumer. The drought and the heat have caused the harvest to commence a couple weeks early, but most of the crop yields are still within a desirable range, albeit smaller than previous years.
  • Winemakers will get smarter and more creative with the ways they irrigate, or don’t, and where they choose to grow their grapes. This should still yield large enough grape harvets to ensure sparkling wine prices won’t be affected in the near future.
  • We may see some delicious sparkling wines as a result of the drought. Did you know that forcing vines to grow longer, stronger roots to access water at deeper soil levels often yields a more robust and flavorful grape? 2014 and 2015 may produce some surprising award-winning sparkling wines.

For now, most farmers and wine aficionados are trying to maintain a positive outlook. Hopefully, a combination of creative growing practices and improved weather conditions will get the industry back on track. In the meantime, toasting your glass to a nice rain storm or two wouldn’t be the worst idea. Cheers!

Fruit and Champagne

 

fruit-and-champagne

The great thing about champagne is that it goes so well with a wide variety of foods.  When you think of champagne there are probably a slew of food pairings that will immediately come to mind.  The classic cheese and champagne pairing is and has always been there, but there are always fruit options as well.  When it comes to fruit, many champagne lovers want to know which fruits are going to go best with their glass of bubbly.

The fruit choices that you can go with when go are drinking champagne are going to fall into a few different categories.  It really depends on the taste that you are looking to get out of the combination.  No matter which way you cut it though, fruit and champagne are truly great together.  Their combination can make for some amazing tastes that are going to get your buds dancing and make the bubbly that much more enjoyable.

Berries Everywhere

The first type of fruit that is going to go absolutely perfectly with champagne is that of berries.  When you have a light champagne, berries are what you want to be reaching for.  The sweet taste of berries can really get the palette ready to enjoy champagne that much more.  This pairing is truly hard to top when you are talking about champagne and fruit.  The berries could be any of your favorite, classic berries.  This means strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, they are all going to make for great options to go with champagne.

Stone Fruits

The other option for you when it comes to pairing fruit with champagne is to go with stone fruits.  These include such fruits as peaches and plums.  These may seem like a strange combination at first glance, but give it a try.  The way that they come together with the light taste of champagne and sparkling wine is beyond delectable.

The fruit and champagne pairing is one that continues to really make waves.  There is nothing like having some berries or stone fruits with a nice, light glass of bubbly.  Pairing fruit with champagne can give you a sweet and smooth taste that will get your taste buds dancing and will have you never looking back.  If you have never paired fruit with champagne before, now is the time to give it a try.  When you grab that glass of champagne, pair it with fruit and let the tastes soar.

5 Champagne Cocktails Perfect For Your Next Gathering

If you’re hosting a party or a cocktail hour and would like to serve some light, but enjoyable drinks, champagne cocktails are a great choice. Consider preparing one or more of these champagne cocktail recipes, which vary from sweet to dry.

Cranberry Orange Fizz

This cocktail is made with demi-sec champagne, which is a sweeter champagne, though not the sweetest. The bright citrus flavor and hint of tartness from the cranberry juice make it a good choice on a summer evening. The recipe makes a whole pitcher of cocktails.5-champagne-cocktails-perfect-for-your-next-gathering

Ingredients:

  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cups cranberry juice, chilled
  • 1 bottle demi-sec champagne, chilled
  • 1/4 cup fresh cranberries

Place the sliced orange and the fresh cranberries in the bottom of a pitcher. Muddle them with a pestal or large spoon. Pour in the cranberry juice, followed by the champagne. Pour into champagne flutes to serve.

Strawberry and Pineapple Breeze

This cocktail boasts fresh flavors, but it’s not as sweet as you might assume, since it’s made with an extra dry champagne. The recipe makes one individual cocktail, but it’s easy to mix up these drinks one after another.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons strawberry puree
  • 1 ounce pineapple juice, chilled
  • 1 dash bitters
  • 4 ounces extra dry champagne, chilled

Pour the pineapple juice and bitters into a champagne flute, and add the champagne. Stir gently, and then pour the strawberry puree in gently. Serve before the puree has a chance to incorporate into the drink; this makes for a pretty presentation.

Old Fashioned Cognac Cocktail

If the occasion calls for something classy, mix up a round of these classic cognac cocktails. This recipe tends to appeal to an older crowd.
5-champagne-cocktails-perfect-for-your-next-gathering

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces brut champagne, chilled
  • 1 ounce Cognac
  • 3 drops bitters
  • 1 sugar cube

Place the drops of bitters on the sugar cube, and place it in the bottom of a champagne glass. Pour the cognac into the glass, followed by the champagne.

Raspberry-Lemon Punch

This champagne cocktail is prepared like a punch. Make it in a large bowl, and let guests serve themselves in cute punch glasses. It’s great for a large party, as you can make 30 or more servings all at once.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raspberry liqueur
  • 1/4 cup lemon vodka
  • 1 quart orange juice
  • 1 quart lemonade
  • 2 bottles semi-sweet champagne
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1 lemon, sliced thinly

Combine the lemon vodka, raspberry liqueur, orange juice, and lemonade in a large punch bowl. Give the mixture a gentle stir, and then slowly add the champagne. Garnish the punch with the raspberries and lemon slices before setting it out for guests to help themselves.

Champagne Mint Julep

Another non-sweet champagne cocktail, this one is perfect for a formal dinner or high-class cocktail party. It calls for extra-brut champagne, which is the driest available. If you prefer a slightly less dry champagne, feel tree to use brut or extra dry.5-champagne-cocktails-perfect-for-your-next-gathering

Ingredients:

  • 3 – 4 mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
  • 1 shot bourbon
  • 4 ounces extra-brut champagne, chilled

Add the mint leaves and sugar to the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Muddle well, using a pestal. Fill the shaker with ice, and add the shot of bourbon. Shake well, and then strain into a collins glass. Top with the champagne, garnish with additional mint leaves if desired, and serve.

When you make champagne cocktails, you don’t have to worry about having a whole selection of ingredients on hand. These recipes appeal to an array of palates and make for a simple and delicious drink selection at your next party.

 

Autumn Inspired Champagne Cocktails

The time for cool-weather drinking is upon us, so why not celebrate the season with some festive cocktails? Autumn gives us a great chance to experiment with seasonal flavors, whether you’re testing your own mixology skills or you’d prefer to take a special request to your favorite bartender.

Original Champagne Cocktail

This timeless cocktail has been left unchanged for over 150 years. Only a true classic stands the test of time quite like this single-serving recipe.

What you’ll need:

  • Angostura bitters
  • 5 ounces brut Champagne
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 lemon twist

Soak your sugar cube with the Angostura bitters in any sort of small glass or dish. Fill a chilled flute with your brut, then add that soaking sugar cube, finish with a lemon twist garnish and enjoy.

Cranberry Champagne Cocktail

This tart, refreshing creation from Food Network’s Tyler Florence is a crisp, fruity one-serving option that’s perfect for lunch or early-evening gatherings.

autumn-champagne-cocktailsWhat you’ll need:

  • Frozen cranberries
  • 1 ounce sweetened cranberry juice
  • 1 slice of lime
  • your choice of bubbly

 

Add the cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime in a chilled champagne flute. Top off the glass with the bubbly of your choosing, then garnish with a handful of cranberries. Toss more cranberries into the drink itself if you would prefer to increase the drink’s overall tartness.

Terrazza

This one takes a few more ingredients than usual, but the persistence pays off in a big way with this dry, light, slightly spicy, one-of-a-kind delicacy. The prep-time for this single serving is basically over once you find your necessary ingredients.

What you’ll need:

  • ¾ ounce Cynar
  • 2 dashes citrus bitters
  • 2 ounces rose vermouth
  • Ice
  • 3 ounces Prosecco, chilled
  • 1 blood orange wedge for garnish

Fill a chilled wine glass with ice, then add all your ingredients (aside from the garnish) and stir well. Garnish with orange wedge and enjoy.

Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria

Replacing the pinot grigio in typical cider sangria with your preferred style of bubbly makes this balanced sangria more bubbly and crisp, while still retaining its enjoyable tart-sweet core. This great option for fruit-filled fun shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes to make, and gives you between four and six servings.

What you’ll need:autumn-inspired-champagne-cocktails

  • 3 hone crisp apples
  • 3 pears
  • 2 ½ cups apple cider
  • 1 cup club soda
  • 1 bottle of preferred semisweet or brut Champagne
  • ½ cup ginger brandy

 

Chop up the required fruit, then combine everything together and stir for several minutes. Refrigerate for at least an hour before you serve.

Sparkling Pomegranate Punch

If we’re talking about tart-sweet drinks, the pomegranate serves us well as the perfect seasonal option. This punch that incorporates multiple different styles of wine with the beloved tart fruit, and the result is a bubbly, tart treat. This recipe takes no more than 20 minutes to finish, and it results in 10-12 servings, so this choice would work very well in a holiday party setting.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 oranges
  • 1 cup diced pineapple
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Ice cubes, per serving
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • ¾ cup late-harvest Riesling, chilled
  • 2 750-mililiter bottles of preferred sparkling wine, chilled

Thinly slice up the two oranges crosswise, and dice your pineapple (assuming it didn’t come that way). Dissolve the sugar in the pomegranate juice while stirring vigorously. Then, add your sparkling wine and Riesling. Then, throw in the orange, pineapple and pomegranate seeds. Serve your punch fresh over ice.

Is There a Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne?

So is there really a difference between sparkling wine and Champagne? They all have the same effervescence and make the same sound when the bottle is uncorked; however, there some key differences that go beyond the name of the wine.

difference between sparkling wine and champagneAbout Champagne

The first thing to note about Champagne is that it is a sparkling wine. The second thing is that it comes from the Champagne region of France. The name “Champagne” is used only for wines from this specific region. There are many other kinds of sparkling wines, but those other types are not called Champagne since they are not made in the Champagne region. The Champagne region has a mild climate along with a chalky soil that is rich in minerals. The result is that the grapes grown in that soil are uniquely flavorful.

Another important fact that separates Champagne from other sparkling wines is that it has to be made in accordance with the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designation. This designation ties a product to its region of origin and regulates numerous aspects of the production process including climate and technique. Along with Champagne, calvados and armagnac also have AOC status.

Méthode Champenoise is the term for the process of making Champagne. Méthode Champenoise involves two-step fermentation. The grape juice is fermented prior to bottling and then it is bottled to trap CO2. That trapped CO2 is what forms the bubbles that make Champagne effervescent.

Another important fact about Champagne is that it can only be made with six grape varietals. The most commonly used grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Champagne can be made with Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane grapes; however, these are not as commonly used as the first three.

Grapes for making Champagne must be handpicked and the clusters must be pressed whole without being destemmed. The AOC dictates that the grapes can only be pressed twice. This is how the concentrated cuvée is made.

Other Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are made all over the world with different methods formulated to bring out different qualities in each wine. For instance sparkling wines can differ in terms of the size of the bubbles and the level of fruitiness. The different varieties of sparkling wines include:

Prosecco.  This is a dry (or very dry) Italian sparkling wine with larger bubbles. Prosecco is widely used for making mixed drinks.

Cava.  Made from Macabeu grapes, this Spanish sparkling wine is said to have a very similar flavor to Champagne. Cava production was modeled after champagne production though the grapes used are mostly indigenous Spanish grapes. Similar to champagne, cava can only come from a few specific regions in Spain and must be made using a specific method. The Spanish equivalent of Methode Champenoise is called “Método Tradicional.”

Sekt.  This is Germanys’ sparkling wine. In most cases, it is sweeter and contains less alcohol than Champagne. It can also contain other aromas including that of pears and apples.

In order to determine whether a wine should be classified as Champagne or sparkling, you need only to look at where it was made.

In most cases, sparkling wine will be much less expensive when compared to champagne. If you are trying to choose between the two types, think about how you expect to use the wine. If you want to drink a quality wine, go with Champagne or one of the higher-rated sparkling wines. Choose a prosecco or other lower quality sparkling wine if you plan to make mixed drinks.

Unique Champagne and Food Pairings

unique-champagne and-food-pairings

Champagne is a great way to make your meals classier. Having a fine wine to sip while enjoying the ambiance of a place, listening to a soothing background music, and eating lavish dishes is one’s definition of a perfect date.

It goes without saying that there are certain types of food that goes best with fine wine. There is really no absolute way to determine the perfect champagne food pairings, but we can give you some ideas of what to serve, or eat, while enjoying a delicious bottle of your favorite fine wine. Today, we will cover these food pairings, and a little about champagne in general.

What’s Special About Champagne?

As we all know, champagne is a type of fine wine. However, when we talk about champagne, we are referring to a particular type of fine wine that is produced specifically using grapes that are grown in the Champagne wine region in France. This type of fine wine also follows certain rules on its production in order to be classified as a “champagne.” Another thing to note is that champagne can only be made by three grape types that are:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

This may clear up the difference between wine and champagne. Now let’s get on to five unique champagne food pairings:

1. Roasted Goose

Roasted goose is a must-try when having a sip of your favorite champagne. The flavor of the chicken is just enough to stimulate your appetite, while not overpowering the sweetness of champagne at the same time. It is better to baste the goose with a mildly-acidic sauce like orange or plum for a better combination of flavors

2. Seafood Hors d’oeurve

Champagne does well with seafood hors d’oeurve because of their saltiness. The flavor’s presence in seafood appetizers combined with the flavor of the champagne is something to try out. If you want to be classier, try combining smoked salmon with Roquefort cheese. The richness of the flavor of the salmon and cheese combined with the sweetness of the champagne will make an elegant pairing.

3. Truffles

Truffles have their own unique flavor, and they are harvested in the autumn. When you get truffles in season, their flavors complement the flavors of champagne as there will be a symphony of flavors in your mouth.

4. Sushi

Champagne paired with sushi is a different way of enjoying the meal. Sushi comes in different forms, but offers the same delicious and mild taste that is good for an appetizer. Pairing it with champagne gives it more flavor and more reasons to enjoy this traditional Japanese recipe.

5. Cheese

Nothing goes wrong when you pair champagne with cheese. Almost all types of cheese are great to pair with champagne. Cheeses are good with champagne because its flavor is not overpowering, but is still enough to stimulate your taste. There are a lot of types of cheese to choose from, but the best combinations would be Gouda, brie, Colby, and mild cheddar.

You’ve seen a few unique food pairings for champagne, but in reality, champagne food pairings are endless. You just have to know how to balance the flavor of the food and the wine in order to create a pairing that will be worthy to a sommelier’s taste buds. Don’t be afraid to try different champagne and food combinations. There will surely be a pair or two that will stand out and will have your sense of taste fully stimulated.

How to Build a Champagne Fountain

how-to-build-a-champagne-fountain

Without a doubt, a beautifully constructed champagne fountain creates a highly memorable focal point for any event from a wedding reception through a christening to a 50th year anniversary party and every other celebration in between. Here are a few tips on how to build a champagne fountain as easily as possible and with a minimum of fuss:

Build a stable base.  It is essential to start with a firm, solid base for the fountain. Anyone who has ever built a “tower of cards” understands this fact as a shaky table can undermine the best stacking effort. In the same vein, use a separate table so that any unnecessary jostling is kept to a minimum before the guests actually queue up to use the tower.

Use the right, same-sized glasses.  A seemingly small matter, it is essential to always use coupe champagne glasses. These are the somewhat retro but eminently usable short-stemmed ones that are easily stackable. Fluted glasses simply do not work. In addition, do not mix and match – make sure that you have enough identical glasses – your glasses as it will only complicate matters beyond repair.

Plan ahead.  The tower is made up of a square base layer. The second one is essentially the same but slightly smaller in size. For example, if the bottom layer is eight glasses by eight glasses, the layer above that would then be seven by seven, the layer above that six by six, and so on. FYI, this particular fountain yields just over 200 glasses of champagne.

Build properly.  The actual build takes some time and effort. In particular, ensure that each glass touches the ones surrounding it. This process guarantees stability and makes the subsequent layers that much easier to place. If done correctly, you will see a diamond-shaped gap between each glass. One more thing… when building the next layer, center the stem of the glass over these diamond openings for best effect.

Fill the glasses smoothly.  When it comes time to actually pour the champagne, you should not get overconfident. Do not start at the top and look for that cascading effect you see in the movies as the entire structure can become top heavy. Instead, half-fill each of the lower layers. Then, when they are stabilized, do the final flourish from the top of completely filling them.

Include a spillage tray.  The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. No matter how careful and exact the builder of a champagne fountain is, there will be anomalies. Save yourself some aggravation and clean-up time by including a spillage tray at the base or underneath to catch any overflow. Seriously, at the end of the night, you will thank us for this simple piece of advice.

How Champagne Flavors are Categorized

how-champagne-flavors-are-categorizedChampagne 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:

  •     Doux
  •     Demi-sec
  •     Dry
  •     Extra Dry
  •     Brut
  •     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.

The Downside to Refrigerating Champagne for Long Periods

the-downside-to-refrigerating-champagne-for-long-periods

Champagne is the universal celebratory drink for all of life’s most memorable occasions. Whether it’s the birth of a baby, graduation, or a wedding, you will most likely find bubbling Moet or some other variety of Champagne. However, sometimes you may purchase one or two bottles too many.

In this instance, it’s best to know how to store Champagne. Continue reading to learn more about storing Champagne and the downsides of keeping it refrigerated for long periods of time.

How to Store Champagne?

Essentially, Champagne should be stored like any other alcohol. As long as the bottle isn’t opened, it should be stored in a dry, cool, and dark place. Most people store Champagne in cellars and in pantries, which are both excellent places. It’s best to avoid storing Champagne in places where the temperatures fluctuate often.

How Long Can Champagne Last?

Similar to other wines, Champagne has an extremely long shelf life when it is stored properly. However, this doesn’t mean all bottles of Champagne are designed to be stored for years. In general, there are two different types of Champagnes: vintage and regular.

Storing Vintage Champagne

Vintage Champagne is designed to be stored for long periods of time as it continues to age in the bottle. Overtime, the taste of these Champagnes changes and becomes richer and more robust. The majority of wine connoisseurs will agree these aged Champagnes are better.

Storing Regular Champagne

In contrast, these regular bottles of Champagne do not get better with time. They are designed to be stored for a few years at the very most.

Champagne and Refrigeration

Once you open a bottle of Champagne, it’s best to finish it in the same day. If you don’t, you may be able to store it in the fridge for a few days, but the bottle will become flat and lose it taste after a couple of days.

However, refrigerator isn’t the ideal solution for long-term storage. Refrigerators are much colder than the majority of wine storage facilities. When storing Champagne, 50 degree is the sweet spot. Refrigerators are much colder than this and have humidity levels that is bad for the Champagne.

While it may be cool to keep the bottle in the fridge for a few weeks, it’s best to avoid storing Champagne in the refrigerator for long periods of time. Another downside of storing Champagne in the refrigerator is the light may damage the bottle.

When Champagne is released from the producer’s cellar, it’s at the optimum drinking age. However, many bottles are able to be exquisitely aged. To achieve this expert aging, it requires that the bottle to be kept cool, but not freezing in an average level of humidity. Even though it may be possible to regulate humidity in a fridge, it’s much easier to simply keep the bottle cool.

If you are planning on taking a bottle to someone’s house to drink for the night, fill a bucket half way with ice and then top it off with water. Leave the bottle in there for approximately 20 minutes and you should be fine.

Learning About Champagne and How to Serve It

learning-about-champagne-and-how-to-serve-itTo be socially cognizant, you should understand how to read  champagne labels, the correct way to serve champagne, and become experienced in selecting the different champagnes made from different grapes to produce dry or sweet champagnes. By learning these procedures plus the correct pronunciation of terms, names and when to use them will cement your standing in any elegant gathering of wine connoisseurs.

A Wine By Any Other Name…

The only wines which legally can be called champagne are produced in the Champagne province of France. The grape juices are selected, mixed and stored to ferment in the primary fermentation process. The second fermentation gives champagne required effervescence, after which it ages for many years.

There are several groupings categorizing champagne:

  • Non-vintage blends are from juice of a number of harvests and don’t identify a vintage year;
  • Vintage blends only use the yield of a single year’s harvest, and it is registered on their label.  Vintage Champagnes indicate all grapes used were harvested from one particular year. According to regulations, Vintage Champagne must be aged for 3 years or more.
  • Rose champagne achieves the color adding fermented pinot noir grape skins to tint the wine;
  • Cuvees de prestige are made from only the best grapes from the top vineyards.

Sweet Or Dry?

Within these categories, champagnes are also typed according to sweetness, listing demi-sec and doux as sweetest champagnes and brut or extra brut tasting the driest.  Sweetness is acquired by sugaring wine just before the final corking.

How To Serve With Panache

Champagne must be chilled to 50 degrees in your refrigerator, never the freezer, or in the alternative, in a bucket of ice and water just before serving.

When opening the bottle, point the cork away from people and objects.  First undo the wire caging around the cork, and holding the cork in your hand firmly, hold the bottle in your other hand.  Slowly turn the bottle, not the cork, until the cork begins to free, and bend the cork as it exits the bottle.

Label Information On French Champagne Bottles

  • NM Negociant ManipulantFirm or person buying grapes, juices or win and completes production.
  • RM Recoltant ManipulantFirm or person producing wine on its own premises only.
  • RC Recoltant Cooperateur – Grower who supplies grapes to cooperatives.
  • CM Cooperative de Manipulation -Co-op which creates and sells wines of its membership.
  • Societe de RecoltantsFamily business harvesting solely by family.
  • MA Marque  d’ Acheteur – The buyer’s own brand, made and labeled with name on label although brand belongs to another. Custom restaurant brands are in this classification.
  • ND Negociant Distributeur – A merchant who buys wines and labels bottles in his own premises with custom labels.

Label Information On American Wines

United States Vineyards are mandated to have the following information on each bottle of wine created here:

  1.  Brand and Producer creating the wine.
  2.  State, County, AVA – geographic area where a majority of its grapes grew. Usually, 75% + of grapes must be grown in the stipulated area, and if AVA specific, then 85%+ is required.
  3.  Vintage  states the year the content grapes were harvested.
  4.  Name and Address of Producer must be listed, plus the process.  If Estate bottled, grapes must be grown, crushed, finished, aged, fermented and bottled there.
  5.  Alcohol percentage measured by ABV not proof: 40% ABV, not 80 proof.
  6.  Volume –Number of milliliters in the bottle.
  7.  Health Warning warns to avoid alcohol and sulfides when pregnant.

Sulfide warnings are labeled in the USA due to allergies and dangers to pregnant women. Other countries do not require.

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.

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.