Break Out the Bubbly

Champagne is the drink of choice for holidays and special parties—and for good reason.

Whenever you break the seal on a bottle of Champagne, you may wonder why the irresistible bubbly is the wine we turn to whenever there is an occasion to be celebrated.

The historical answer lies in the Cathedral of the village of Reims, in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. There, most of the country’s monarchs celebrated their enthronement. After the ceremony, people enjoyed sparkling wine to mark the celebration.

Another reason might be that champagne is one of the few wines that is flexible enough to be offered at any hour of the day, and multi-dimensional enough to be paired well with most foods.

For centuries, the Champagne region of France has been producing wine that has become synonymous with the art of fine living. Located just north of Paris, it is known for its freezing winters and cool summers, which result in a long growing season that nourishes the grape varieties grown here: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Chardonnay creates finesse and delicacy in the champagne, and Pinot Noir gives it body and flavor, while Pinot Meunier provides freshness and fruitiness. The style of champagne can range from the ultra brut (very, very dry) to the brut, which is generally considered the house blend to create consistency in the style and quality.

The champagne most popular in the market is non-vintage. The wine must be a blend of two or more years’ harvest and must age in the bottle for at least 15 months. Some good examples of non-vintage champagne are G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, Pommery Brut Royal, Louis Roederer Brut Premier, Laurent-Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut, and Charles Heidsieck.

Vintage champagne must be 100 percent from that year’s harvest and aged in the bottle for a minimum of 3 years. My favorite examples of vintage champagne are 1989 Perrier-Jouet Fleur,1988 Krug, 1996/1997 Louis Roederer Cristal,1996 Dom Perignon, and  2002 and 2004 Moet & Chandon.

With champagne, “pink” does not mean cheap. In fact, it is the most expensive.  Good choices include 1989 Perrier-Jouet fleur Rose, 1988/89 Krug Rose, 1996/1977 Cristal Rose, 1996 Dom Perignon Rose, and Laurent Perrier Brut Rose.

Blanc de Blancs—“white from white”—is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. Some suggestions: 1996 Perrier-Jouet Blanc de Blanc, 1994 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Krug Clos du Mesnil, and 1995 Salon.

When exploring the wines of France’s Champagne region, the experience is about selection, taste and style. Be adventurous, choose the champagne that best suits the occasion and your budget, as well as your personality and tastes. Then, pop the cork and savor.

Categories: Food & Entertaining