Champagne turns any occasion into a celebration—open a bottle and toast to
Add a touch of class to all the festivities that surround your wedding day by
serving champagne, the drink invented in the 17th century by Dom Perignon, a
Benedictine monk. Champagne transforms every occasion into something special.
Before the two of you decide on a particular champagne for your wedding, there
are several things you should know.
The name Champagne on a label refers to the sparkling wine produced in the
Champagne region of France by the methode champenoise (described below). Although
many countries produce sparkling wines, through international agreement they
must use another name. Since the United States didn't sign this agreement, you
will find sparkling wines from New York and California called champagne.
Sparkling wines also are made in Spain, Australia, South America, Russia and
many other areas.
Vins mousseux are a variety of sparkling wines produced outside the Champagne
region, many from France's Loire Valley. Mousseux simply means foamy or frothy.
In Italy, dry sparkling wine is called spumante, and sweeter wine is known as
asti spumante. And, in Germany, sekt means sparkling wine. Most sekt is
made by the bulk process, and is often finished fairly sweet.
There are three different approaches used to make sparkling wine:
- The methode champenoise is the traditional and most expensive
method, and is obligatory in the Champagne region. It consists of creating a
blend of the base wine and bottling this with a small amount of sugar and
yeast, which causes a second fermentation to take place in each bottle.
During this second fermentation, carbon dioxide forms; since this gas is
trapped in the bottle, bubbles form. So, the champagne is created and aged
in the same bottle you buy; it never leaves the bottle until you pour it.
- The transfer process is the second approach. It takes less than two
years to complete. The wine undergoes a primary and secondary fermentation
in the bottle and then is emptied into a pressurized tank for filtration and
- The bulk, or Charmat, process is the one by which most of the
world's wine is created. The base wine is poured directly into tanks holding
thousands of gallons. The second fermentation takes place in the tank; the
sparkling wine is filtered and bottled, and the finished product can be in
stores within weeks.
The Taste Test
Champagne's taste varies according to the particular grapes used, added
sweeteners and the process employed in production. The amount of sugar used in
the formula determines the degree of sweetness in the finished sparkling wine.
Sweetness will be an important consideration in your decision to serve the
sparkling wine alone or as a companion to different foods.
- Brut is the driest of them all (no perceptible sweetness) and is
excellent as an aperitif.
- Extra dry is slightly sweet and is best served with a main dish or
- Sec, demi sec and doux are very sweet and are perfect with
Be certain to choose your sparkling wine carefully. Brut champagne often
tastes bitter when drunk with a sweet dessert such as wedding cake. However,
when served with particular desserts, such as fruit-based ones, a dry champagne
can be ideal. If you have a question about which champagne to choose, ask your
local wine dealer.
That Was A Good Year
Virtually every champagne firm makes several varieties of wine. What should you
buy? Non-vintage champagne is generally moderately priced and the most versatile.
It is blended from the grapes of many vineyards, several successive pressings
and wines held in reserve from previous vintages. It can be served as an
aperitif, throughout a meal or at any time of the day or night.
Vintage champagne is a bit more expensive than
non-vintage, ranging from
moderately priced to expensive. Only certain years of exceptional growing and
harvesting conditions are designated vintage. Vintage
champagnes are made from a blend of black and white grapes from different
vineyards. It is then aged not less than three years, but is engaged in an
ongoing process for five years. The year of the harvest is shown on the label.
Prestige cuvee is the "best of the best" (also the
most expensive), and should be reserved for only your most special moments! It
is a luxurious wine made from the first pressing of the grapes, and is aged even
longer than other fine champagnes. Each producer strives for a balanced
champagne of the finest quality, coupled with a high style of presentation.
These premium bubblies may be blanc de blancs or rose. They also may be vintage
or non-vintage. And the shape of the bottles is usually different from the
traditional champagne bottles. Often they are replicas of 18th-century,
hand-blown glass bottles, or wine decanters packaged in handsomely decorated
paper, wood or tin boxes for gifting.
Color: A Matter Of Choice
Rose champagne derives its rosy color from the pigmentation in
the skin of the black grapes used to make it. The fact that pink champagne is
the most difficult sparkling wine to produce explains why it is more expensive
than golden champagne. Since rose champagne can be flowery and delicate, or
full-bodied and robust, it can be served with any menu at any time! It is
available in non-vintage, vintage and prestige cuvee.
Blanc de blancs is a blend made from only white chardonnay
grapes. It may be vintage, non-vintage or prestige cuvee champagne.
When deciding how much champagne per person, allow four generous champagne
glasses per standard bottle. For a toast or dessert, allow one glass per person.
For cocktails or as an aperitif, you may need two. One-half bottle per person
should be sufficient for an entire evening.
The Big Chill
The best cooling method is to place the unopened bottle in a wine bucket that is
half filled with ice and water for 30 minutes. To keep several bottles chilled,
place the champagne in a large tub or container, spread plenty of ice cubes
around the bottles and fill with cold water. Carefully wipe each bottle before
serving to prevent slippage.