Taste the Love: Understanding the Beauty of Champagne, Plus: Five Best Bets for Your Wedding Reception
We can say one thing about celebrities: they know how to celebrate. Consider Kim Kardashian’s hot ticket wedding where she poured nothing less than Armand de Brignac Champagne for her guests. Whether or not you like Kim, you’d be a fool to miss out on a taste from the gold bottle of Brignac (weighing in at $230, it’s an ultra-luxury sip). But you can still toast your occasion with excellent taste on a more reasonable budget. Use our style guide (yes, even sparkling wine has a style) and buying suggestions to ensure your bubbles measure up.
It’s important to note that only bubbles from the Champagne region of France can actually be called Champagne. If the sparkling wine is crafted in the Champagne style, then it is also called méthode champenoise. The uniquely chalky soils of France’s Champagne region impart that certain je ne sais quoi that defines the real deal. However, sparkling wine has come a long way all over the globe and especially in North America.
Indeed, there’s a bubble for every mood and every celebration, pedigree is just a matter of taste. Dame Lily Bollinger summed it best, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry, and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.”
What’s Your Style?
Dry, semi-sweet or even sweet? Rosé or blanc de blanc? The style choices are a trifle daunting, but really it all boils down to sugar and skin.
The more sugar left in your Champagne after fermentation, the sweeter it will be. Grapes are crushed immediately after picking and only the resulting white juice is used (red grapes do not have red juice). For rosé, winemakers allow a bit of extra time on the red grape skins to stain the juice, hence imparting a gorgeous pink hue.
Blanc de Blanc: Made only from white grapes, mainly Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de Noir: Made primarily from red grapes such as Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir grapes, sometimes Chardonnay is added as well. These are not pink wines.
Rosé: Also known as pink Champagne—made so by brief contact with skins. These can be made from a combination of grapes. Rosé does not denote sweetness.
Brut: The driest, least sweet version of Champagne and sparkling wines.
Demi-Sec (French for medium-sweet) or extra dry: Oddly enough, this means a bit sweeter than Brut.
Sec: Work with me here: This translates to ‘dry’ in French, but on sparkling wine labels this means the wine is sweet.
Doux: Very sweet, over 5 percent sugar, the sweetest version you can buy.
|What Really Matters: Taste
These are five great values with knockout taste—worthy of any nuptial:
1. Gruet Rosé, New Mexico, $15
Lovely in the glass with a floral nose that’s plump with strawberries, the crisper style is perfect for getting the party started.
2. CJR Reginato—Celestina, Argentina, $20
This limited production boutique bubbly is hand-crafted from Malbec grapes and one of Argentina’s best values in sparkling wine. Even better, the family named this wine “Celestina” for their late wife and mother whose name “Celestina” means matchmaker in Spanish. Crispy and zippy with warm round notes of with some heft, great for toasting and enjoying with the meal.
3. Mirabelle, Brut Rose, California, $27
This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has notes of watermelon and strawberries with a rich moussy mid-palate that makes it an ideal match with hors d’oeuvres.
4. Schramsberg Brut, California, $36
Save this bottle for your post-celebration. This is America’s sparkling wine; in fact, the first one to ever be served at the White House. Loads of zippy citrus with tropical fruit nipping at the edges, this one drinks like the big boys for half the money.
5. Pommery Summertime Champagne, France, $50
Made in a brut style, this particular sparkler has crisp, zingy acidity that only the chalky soil of Champagne can deliver. You’ll also love the lime zest and refreshing mouthfeel. At $50, it’s a knockout bottle of bubbles.
FRENCHISMS ON HANDLING CHAMPAGNE
1. Never chill the glasses; you’ll impact the effervescence of the bubbles
2. Don’t hide the label and wrap the bottle in a towel like it’s a newborn baby. This contemptible practice actually began in Parisian nightclubs as a way to conceal the label of cheap Champagne so as not to reveal to the customer that he or she was being charged for a more expensive bottle of the bubbly.
4. This is one wine you should never swirl. The French call this “champagne battering,” because swirling the bubbly in the glass will only succeed in compromising in 30 seconds the bubbles that took at least three years to produce.