December 29, 2020
When you’re curled up on your sofa with a good book, you want to enjoy a nice glass of red wine—but when you’re celebrating a special event, toast with Champagne.
This effervescent beverage is synonymous with elegance and fun. Not only does Champagne taste divine, it’s pretty—perfect for serving at a classy event. Red and white wine drinks alike will surely love it.
But before you raise your glass this holiday season, let us teach you what goes into this delicious drink and its different varieties. This knowledge will be a talking point as you entertain your guests. You may just earn the title “wine snob.”
What grape is Champagne made from?
As you’ve likely heard wine buffs say before, true Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. The three criteria a bottle must pass to be true Champagne are, of course, that the wine must be from Champagne in northeastern France, be made from the three traditional grapes, and use the traditional method, known as the méthode traditionelle, méthode classique, or méthode Champenoise.
There are three main, traditional Champagne grape varieties:
- Chardonnay: This white grape is mild in flavor, very acidic, and crisp.
- Pinot Noir: This purple grape boasts a range of flavors and aromas but is traditionally earthy and intense.
- Pinot Meunier: This red grape brings body and richness to Champagne.
Some other grapes used in Champagne variations include the Pinot Gris, which is a pink-skinned, fruity variation of the Pinot Noir, the Petit Meslier, an acidic sibling of the Chardonnay grape, and, the rarest of all, the Arbane.
How is Champagne made?
The méthode Champenoise is complex, which is reflected in the high price tag of a good bottle of Champagne. The grapes are distilled into still wine before going through a second distillation process. In that second step, after winemakers add yeast and sugar to the wine, the liquid becomes bubbly. Champagne ages for at least 15 months, and winemakers occasionally rotate the bottle to keep the yeast moving. Then the yeast is then skimmed off the top of the drink and more sugar and some liqueur de dosage are added to complete the process.
What are the main Champagne houses?
While there are over 250 Champagne houses, only few Champagne brands are commonly known worldwide. The following are some of the top maisons.
- Dom Pérignon
- Moët & Chandon
- Veuve Clicquot
Champagnes to try:
- For a special occasion: Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut Champagne
- For a gift: Taittinger la Brut Française Champagne
- For your next Zoom cocktail: Veuve du Vernay Brut
Types of Champagne
You’ve undoubtedly heard of “brut” Champagne, but what does this term mean? “Brut” is a sweetness designation given to very dry varieties of this wine, and exists on a scale:
- Brut nature: extra dry
- Extra brut: very dry
- Brut: dry
- Extra dry: dry, but not as dry as brut
- Dry: somewhat dry
- Demi-sec: sweet, typically a sparkling dessert wine
- Doux: very sweet, also typically a dessert wine
Brut is the most common designation given to Champagne, even if the variety of wine is a bit sweet. Play it safe if you prefer a dry taste and opt for extra brut or brut nature.
How to serve and store Champagne
Experts say that the ideal serving temperature for most sparkling wines is just below 50° F. You should also never serve sparkling wine in pre-chilled glasses; this will kill the bubbles.
Only buy Champagne only when you need it because this variety of wine doesn’t get better with age on the shelf. You could even ruin it by storing it incorrectly. Newer refrigerators should work fine for storage, but older models may vibrate and shake up the drink.
If you already bought some ahead, store your bottles horizontally and in a cool place away from light sources. Champagne should never be stored in the freezer because the bottle can crack or explode.
Champagne food pairings
Despite its reputation as a drink for toasting, Champagne and other sparkling wines pair well with a wide variety of dishes, including ones you likely serve up on a weeknight at home.
Mac and cheese or grilled cheese sandwich
Why it works: Acidic Champagne bubbles help cut through the cheesy richness of creamy mac and cheese or a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Throw some French varieties of cheese into your meal for a more authentic experience.
Try it with: Veuve du Vernay Brut
Spicy Thai food
Why it works: Sweet, fruity bubbles can soften the flavors of spicy and acidic Thai dishes, like Tom Yum Kung Soup and Pad Prik King.
Try it with: Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rosé Champagne
Why it works: This combination is a classic for a reason: dry bubbles complement the minerality of briny oysters.
Try it with: Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut Champagne
Fish and chips
Why it works: Champagne’s acidity can help balance out fatty, salty fish and chips. The flavor profile of wine is similar to that of vinegar, which is a popular condiment for this British favorite.
Try it with: Gosset Champagne
Salad with vinaigrette dressing
Why it works: Because leaves are so delicate in texture and flavor, not many alcohol products pair well with a salad. But a delicate Champagne complements the acidity of vinaigrette dressing and is especially good with tangy cheeses.
Try it with: Chloe Prosecco
Why it works: Because of its crisp bubbles, Champagne is a great palate cleanser. Next time you make spicy chili, pop some bubbly.
Try it with: La Marca Prosecco
Why it works: Sweet, fatty duck pairs well with the acidic flavors in a good glass of brut Champagne.
Try it with: Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut
The Difference Between Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. That doesn’t mean that sparkling wine isn’t as good as its French counterpart. It’s just different. Read up on the distinctions below.
Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also produced using the méthode traditionelle with a second fermentation, but with different grapes (macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada).
Young cava is a light- to medium-bodied, dry sparkling wine with citrus and yellow apple notes and noticeable acidity and minerality. When aged longer, cava develops a nuttiness in flavor—you may recognize notes of almond or hazelnut. Include cava in your next at-home wine tasting.
Cava to try:
For any occasion: Segura Viudas Brut Cava
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from glera grapes in the Veneto region of Italy using the Charmat method, which is faster and less expensive than the méthode Champenoise. Prosecco gets its bubbles while fermenting in tanks before transferring the liquid to bottles. This Italian wine is normally sweeter and lighter than cava or Champagne and has hints of pear, apple, and even tropical fruits.
Prosecco is a base for many popular cocktails such as Aperol Spritzes, bellinis and mimosas.
Prosecco to try:
If you plan to play sommelier this weekend, pick up different varieties of sparkling wine from GoPuff. It’s as easy as placing an order on your phone and inviting all your friends while you wait for your order. You’ll impress your guests with your newfound Champagne knowledge.