The essential guide to opening, serving and storing Champagne
The Name ‘Champagne’: Despite the legal ramifications of using the name unless your product is produced in the Champagne region in France, there is an undeniable difference between ‘French Champagne’ (as we in Australia like to call it to denote it is not an ‘imposter’) and any other style of ‘Method Champenoise’. Prosecco is perfect for an Aperol Spritz and the quality of some Australian and New Zealand sparkling wines are admiral, notably Chandon with its inherent French heritage thanks to the owners, renowned Champagne House – Moet & Chandon.
But nothing compares to Champagne, French Champagne.
Chilling: Always chill champagne for at least several hours before to ensure it is the correct temperature for drinking. I find its best to have at least one bottle in the refrigerator at all times – to ensure you are not waiting for a bottle to cool and risk drinking it before it is at its best. If guests arrive with a less-than-chilled bottle you can start with yours and move onto theirs later! Keeping your champagne glasses in the freezer will keep the beverage chilled whilst drinking, and demonstrates your respect for the fine things in life.
Opening – the Foil: The foil on bottles of champagne is essentially packaging and its removal is the obvious first part of opening the bottle. Find the elusive tab, usually marked, but still difficult to locate on most occasions, and peel it off – completely. It just looks better if the champagne is served without the foil hanging off it.
Opening – the Cage: The cage is there to ensure the cork remains in place while the champagne is in transit – where the movement can cause the pressure in the bottle to increase and potentially ‘pop the cork’. Take the ‘muselet’ (the wire part that sticks out from the cage) and twist it the uniform six half-turns*, then remove the cage entirely when it is free. Keep your thumb or the palm of your hand on the cork in case it does want to jump out of the bottle and take out someone’s eye, ruining the occasion. At the same time take the bottle with the other hand in preparation for opening.
Opening – the Cork: It’s crunch time. You’ve chilled the bottle and the glasses, your date has arrived and you offer them a drink. Now is not the time to mess things up, literally. It doesn’t look good if you struggle with the cork and it is less impressive to have champagne explode across the room, on the table or worse your or your dates clothes, than it is to discreetly and professionally open your chosen wine with aplomb. It would also be a gross waste of Champagne!
The secret is to continue to hold as described above and twist the bottle, not the cork. The texture of the cork provides better leverage to hold it in place while you turn the bottle. And the pressure will likely provide most of the expulsion of the cork at the same time as you twist the bottle. You retain much more control in this way and minimise room for error. And there you have it – Champagne cork in hand, having blossomed from its confinement – beautiful by design, aren’t they?
Pouring: Champagne is a fine product crafted over time with meticulous care, that has traveled literally half way around the world for your special celebration. Please treat it with the respect it deserves on the final stages of its journey by pouring it gently from the bottle. The champagne bottle is not only distinctive in shape it provides perfect balance for pouring while holding the bottle at its base. This is not only impressive, it provides greater control to pour gently at a consistent rate and your hand is not warming the bottle as it does by holding and pouring from the neck.
Only half fill the glass – not only is it more tasteful, the constant topping up of the glass once again ensures the drink remains cool.
A useful trick to ensure the serving is the same for each glass is to pour at an even stream and count the seconds it takes to get to the desired level of the first glass, then replicating for the other glasses. You’ll be surprised how professional the effect is – as long as you count in your head and not out loud of course!
Glassware: Despite the emerging trend to imbibe from a ‘wine glass’ shape with a larger bowl, allegedly to fully appreciate flavour, champagne flutes are still my favourite. Coupes, or Champagne Saucers, provide a sense of theatre and style and while rumoured to let the bubbles evaporate too quickly due to the increased surface area, a true champagne coupe will only hold a few mouthfuls which minimises that issue and again ensures the liquid remains chilled.
Storing: Even so, it’s important to keep the bottle cool and retain the effervescence while you slowly enjoy its contents. ALWAYS return the bottle to the refrigerator or use a Champagne Bucket (I like the Avanti twin wall model or the Lifestyle/Punchbowl version for more than one bottle). This will keep it at the required coolness whilst enjoying – most important as even that chilled glass will begin to warm from the moment you begin to use it. To keep your beverage fresh I recommend Vin Bouquet’s Champagne stopper and preserver. It not only acts as a stopper, sealing the bottle, it has a pump top to expel excess air, thereby providing less oxygen for the bubbles to evaporate. The ribbed stopper and stainless steel collar provide a secure seal and the pump is easy to operate. The number of ‘pumps’ will depend on the volume of liquid in the bottle- anything from 10-30 should do the trick. It has a supposedly handy built in date-dial to remind you of the date you opened the bottle but we really recommend any champagne is consumed on the same day. Importantly, the design is discreet enough to still fit in most fridge doors when in use.
Vin Bouquet’s Champagne Stopper and Preserver
Favourites: Champagne is a rare drink that is best served at any time of day, at any occasion, with or without food. Depending if the occasion calls for a special toast to an anniversary or simply to celebrate breakfast at home in style (which is invariably cheaper – even with a bottle of ‘champers’, more reliable, convenient and in a less crowded environment than dining out) there are plenty of ‘houses’ to choose from let alone varieties. Yes, breakfast, lunch or dinner – as a pre-dinner drink, for cocktails, with an appetiser, entree, dessert or cheese – its always Champagne time in our books and here are just a few of my favourites (in no particular order);
Perrier Jouet – crisp and fresh with lingering citrus flavours, perfect for enjoying in the morning – and the art-deco styled white Japanese Anemone flower makes a romantic statement.
Bollinger – if its good enough for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, its good enough for me!
Henri Laurent – my ‘house champagne’, very affordable by the case and wonderful for everyday use – great with that aforementioned breakfast, be it scrambled eggs with avocado toast or French toast made from panettone served with Vermont Maple Syrup and fresh, seasonal berries.
Pol Roger – Winston Churchill’s champagne of choice. It got him through a spot of bother or two and its my choice for any special event, be it birthday, anniversary, Christmas lunch…
Duperry – a magnum (1.5L) of this champagne makes an impressive gift or statement at a BYO restaurant and this is one of the few available in the Australian market at an affordable price. And it’s a very nice drop too.