This website was launched because I wanted to learn about champagne. I just had so many questions about champagne that I turned it into a project. Soon, I found out that Google wasn’t very helpful, as most of my questions revolved around opinions and comme il fauts rather than mere facts. I don’t think it’s me; there’s a vagueness surrounding champagne and as an outsider, it’s hard to find the right people to help you out. That’s why this article helps you learn about champagne without shame. Through 5 questions, I’ll share some ungoogleable information about the drink of the gods. And yes, I know that word is normally used for hot chocolate, but if you’d let gods choose between champagne and a mug of coco, I’m sure they’d go with the bubbles. If you think otherwise, with all due respect, you’re just wrong.
Now let’s do this.
#1. Do people think you’re a snob when you order champagne on a regular Tuesday night?
Yes. It’s highly recommended, though. You see, it all depends on the circumstances. A glass of champagne can’t be compared to a beer, which goes with pretty much everything (friends night out, dinner, Netflix binge night). Usually, people drink champagne when they feel like celebrating. And good news for you: it doesn’t really matter what it is that you’re celebrating. New Year’s Eve and weddings are well-known champagne moments, but so are 5-month dating anniversaries, holidays (all kinds), promotions, I-have-not-seen-you-in-ages dinners and newborns.
In fact, I once ordered a glass of champagne in the Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam after a failed shopping session. Instead of buying shoes, I spent the afternoon with a good friend and a glass of fine bubbles, and it made my day. So, to answer this first question: don’t take champagne lightly and drink it on special moments. Then again, it’s you who gives meaning to the word special.
#2. Is champagne an aperitif?
No! Some people believe champagne is the kick-off to a great night, as the cork pops, the drink has bubbles and the subconscious screams “Happy New Year!”. Luckily, the French know better. Champagne is more than a kick-off; it’s actually the foundation for a great time. I, for one, drink champagne throughout the night, sometimes alternated with a fine glass of white. There are many different kinds of champagne, and the heavier ones can easily be paired with meat dishes. Additional benefit: if I drink biological and biodynamical champagne exclusively, I don’t get hangovers. Okay that’s a lie. But the symptoms are far less serious.
#3. Tasting champagne before you order- serious business or a formality?
Good to know: you can’t try open wines before you order them. “Open wines” are the ones that you order by the glass instead of by the bottle, and have already been tasted by the sommelier or waiter. If you do order by the bottle, you can try champagne (and all other wines), but you don’t focus on whether you like it or not. You only send it back when there’s something wrong, such as:
- Your champagne is corked (caused by mould): there’s an overpowering damp of aromas and the level of fruit flavours has dropped. The bubbles are still there, so don’t let this fool you.
- The champagne is over-oxidised: you get hit by sherry and raisin aromas. No no no!
- Your champagne has lost its sparkle: the bubbles are gone. Game over, your champagne has died.
- Your glass is dirty. Politely ask for a new one: nice things come in clean glasses.
#4. How do I taste champagne without looking like an idiot?
The first time I saw my boyfriend Peter try a champagne in a restaurant, I burst out in laughter. He held the glass alongside the table, shook it, then stuck his nose in and took a slurping sip. I looked at the waiter, who didn’t flinch. Apparently, Peter had done a very normal thing and I had been very rude.
The more I learn about champagne, the more I realise that tasting champagne is serious business. But it’s not complicated. First of all, look at the colour of the champagne by holding the glass against a light background. What you see, tells you a lot about flavour and depth. There’s no wrong colour; champagne can be light and watery or dark and heavy, but both can be terrific(ly bad). Second, let your glass dance. Do so by putting it back on the table and swirling it around, so that the champagne creates so-called “legs” on the inner side of the glass.
Back in the days, wines that had tears instead of legs were thought of as inferior. New research proves otherwise, but as swirling still looks nice, swirl away. Third, stick your nose in (and real deep!). Be careful, though, as just-poured champagne can be overwhelming. Fourth, take a sip and make sure you let in some oxygen at the same time (or simply put: slurp). Let the champagne dance through your mouth so that it reaches all different kinds of tasting buds. Fifth, wait for the aftertaste, which can change the taste completely. Lastly, smile, nod politely and say: “Yes, very good, thanks!” The sommelier will then fill up your glass and leave. Mission accomplished.
Want to know more about tasting champagne. Read this blog!
#5. How can I describe champagne and can I go wrong?
Out of all questions about champagne, this is probably the most embarrassing one. Fortunately, I did dare to pose it to Hervé Justin, the chef de cave of champagne house Leclerc Briant. He told me that people can taste different fruits and minerals in the same champagne. So, if your business relation across the table tells you the champagne has hints of star anise and bread, whereas you taste green apples and vanilla: don’t worry. You could both be right, as champagne is like a rainbow of flavours. At the same time, there are strong differences when it comes to grape varieties.
Chardonnay grapes often have hints of green apples and chalk when the champagne is young, and toast and caramel when you have an older one. Pinot noir, on the other hand, can be recognised by dark fruits, cinnamon and sometimes even tobacco when the champagne is more matured. I often turn to this cheat sheet that can be found on the Comité Champagne website. Thanks to this aroma map, I almost always got it right whereas without it, I’m often far off. So, to answer this last question: you can taste pretty much everything in champagne, however, age and grape variety do matter. And terroir, and production method, and vinification. Etcetera, etcetera.
So there you have it! Five embarrassing and ungoogleable questions about champagne answered. Do you have another question (embarrassing or very clever) you’d like to have an answer to? Don’t hesitate to leave me a message. I gladly replace your discomfort with cockiness.