Not all great champagnes start great. Sometimes, they make you work for it. It happened to me in Boston last September, where I met up with my dear champagne friend Rui, who I met while picking grapes for David Léclapart. That night, I learned that champagne development is a thing and that you can turn water into wine simply by waiting. Scroll down for the tips!
The run for champagne
To understand how I learned about champagne development, I should probably give you some background information. In September 2022, I experienced the most stressful flight of my life. I was on my way to a business conference in Boston, and because of my delayed flight to Paris, my transfer time had been limited to 30 minutes. And oh boy, was I stressed. It wasn’t because of the conference – it was because of my friend Rui, who was on her way from New York to Boston so we could drink champagne together. We met when picking grapes for David Léclapart last year (we bonded because we were both terribly slow pickers), and thanks to my conference, we would meet again.
So there, at Paris Charles de Gaulle, I ran. For friendship and champagne. I got on my flight to Boston more sticky than I’d ever been, but I made it to the United States. That Saturday night, I dragged my three British colleagues to the restaurant Troquet, where we met up with Rui.
Remember that I was still very stressed. And when you’re stressed, you’re impatient.
At the restaurant (which I wouldn’t recommend as they served scallops on cornbread), Rui and I fell in each other’s arms and ordered natural champagne straight away. I chose Le Mesnil, as I’d never had it before and heard good things about it. The waiter brought the bottle to the table, and stressed as I was, I got scared. Forcing natural champagne upon colleagues is dangerous, as it’s not for everyone. Plus, my colleagues were British, and British people drink beer. Also, Rui trusted me blindly when it came to champagne brands, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. Slightly trembling, I took a sip of the glass the waiter had poured for me, so I could have a taste and approve.
Nothing happened. Literally nothing.
The champagne tasted like sparkling water. If I tried really hard, I could maybe detect some apple juice somewhere in the background, but Le Mesnil turned out the be a huge disappointment. I looked around the table; everyone was staring at me, waiting to smile and say: “This is incredible!” (which, of course, I did). Then, I thought about the 119 dollars I had just paid to give Rui and my colleagues a taste of what I considered the best drink in the world. What would they think of me when it turned out to be this tasteless?
The waiter filled the other glasses, and people were clinking glasses. They seemed to like it, but I couldn’t relax. Then, my scallops on cornbread came, and I wanted to disappear.
Legen… wait for it… dary
It must’ve been around twenty minutes later that something weird happened. I took another sip of my champagne, and everything had changed. The champagne temperature had increased slightly, and just like a flower, it had opened op. Sparkling water had been replaced by honey and fruity apples, with a hint of toast in the background. “Guys, you have got to taste this!” I yelled ecstatically. “The champagne has completely changed!”
It was true. In my attempt to woo the table, I had been impatient. When I first tasted the champagne, I should’ve let the waiter know it wasn’t quite there yet. I should’ve asked to decant it or at least not to ice it. Fortunately, those twenty minutes fixed the problem.
They had changed water into wine.
Champagne development – 4 easy tips
You probably wonder what happened in that restaurant. The simple answer is that most champagnes develop while in the glass. It’s been trapped in a bottle for months or years, and when blended with oxygen, magical things happen. Often, champagne tastes fantastic straight away. But sometimes, you need to be patient.
To protect you from making the same mistake I made in Boston, here are four tips for when you’ve ordered champagne that tastes like sparkling water:
- Be patient. As I said, some champagne needs time to develop in your glass before it reveals its secrets.
- Don’t ice it. Sometimes, cold masks flavour. By the way, this applies to pretty much every drink.
- If the champagne is very “persistent” and doesn’t want to talk to you, ask the sommelier or waiter to decant it first. That will do the trick.
- It might not be the champagne that’s being difficult – it could also be you. Try cleaning your palette, for example, by eating a piece of bread.
If you’ve tried all of the above and you still got nothing, chances are that the champagne you ordered is just not that great – that’s also possible. But then, at least you tried!
Have you ever turned water into wine? And how did you get it done? I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences.