Any time is a good time to drink Champagne, but perhaps never more so than during the holidays. Whether your sipping it solo or giving it as a gift, it’s best to be well equipped with knowledge about what you’re buying.
Sparkling wines and Champagne are often at their best when enjoyed with food (despite them usually being served as an aperitif without food). Most sparkling wines aren’t sweet tasting, but they aren’t bone dry either and the bubbles scrub and reinvigorate the palate. This combination of acidity, the bubble and a little sweetness make these wines perfect with virtually any food.
The best sparkling wines get their carbonation from a second fermentation that happens in each individual wine bottle after a small dose of yeast and sugar is added to a still wine. As it ferments, the action of the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide which dissolves into the wine waiting for you to pop the cork. The yeast cells – called the lees – add toasty, brioche-y aromas and flavours to the wine.
The wines of Champagne in France get all the glory when it comes to recognizable sparkling wines, but that doesn’t mean that other places can’t make good wine in the same style or quality as Champagne. They’re often a little easier on the wallet as well. Whether Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, or even sparkling wine from the U.S. or Canada, these wines pair well against both salty and sweet foods, seafood from sushi to salmon and even fried foods. Classic matches with sparkling wine also include strawberries, oysters and yes, even movie-style popcorn for a quiet night in with your Valentine. Ros or blush sparkling wines are generally dry, and can be enjoyed with lamb, lobster, fish, or fowl.
Not too warm, Not too cold
Sparkling wines are meant to be served well chilled but only the most inexpensive bottles should be served ice cold. When serving at home, planning ahead is always best and sparkling wine is better chilled in the fridge than the freezer. Allow the wine to warm up a bit before serving and let it rest on some ice in an ice bucket rather than surrounded by the ice.
Older Champagnes or richer, fuller flavoured examples can also be served slightly warmer. Champagne and sparkling wines are always best served in champagne flutes, which allows the bubbles to last. In a pinch, narrower, tulip shaped white wine glasses will also do.
When it comes time to open the bottle, twist the bottle, not the cork, and gently ease the cork out so when it exits the bottle it does so with a whisper of air, not a violent pop followed by a geyser. What this method lacks in drama it more than makes up for by showing your date you’re not a buffoon. It also helps preserve the bubbles and saves the wine that might otherwise end up in the sink.
A case of Christmas choices
Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2002 Champagne, France $81
Taittinger Nocturne Champagne, France $90
Veuve Cliquot, 1998 La Grand Dame, Champagne France, $240
La Jara NV Organic Rose Brut Spumante, Italy $20
Zardetto NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy $21
Nino Franco NV Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy, $21
Pares Balta NV Cava, Penedes, Spain $18
Segura Viudas NV Brut Rose, Penedes, Spain $16
Hungaria NV Grande Cuve, Hungary, $16
Summerhill 1998 Ariel Brut, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $85
Road 13, 2009 Sparkling Chenin Blanc, Okanagan Valley, Canada $35
Henry of Pelham NV Cuve Catherine Brut, Niagara Peninsula, Canada $40