That’s the Spirit, Vol. I: Champagne

Everything you need to know about the bubbly stuff

By The Editors
December 27, 2016 9:00 am


eddings and mitzvahs excluded, most men will drink Champagne exactly once this year: December 31st.

Then they will wake up on New Year’s Day with vicious headaches and announce their first resolution for 2017: swearing off the bubbly stuff for the ensuing 364 days.

But it mustn’t be so. With a little know-how, you’ll find that Champagne is every bit as approachable as your favorite craft brew or California red.

So we recruited a ragtag team of experts — think sommeliers, bartenders and Michelin star chefs — to tell us everything there is to know about Champagne.

What to buy, how to mix, pairing options, hangover cures: all in there.

Edify thyself.

e sent out a simple missive to our favorite food and beverage pals a few weeks back: What Champagne are you drinking — or would you recommend drinking — on New Year’s Eve, and why?

The responses? Diverse, both in style and price point.

 “For value, my top two picks would be R. H. Coutier’s Grand Cru Brut and André Clouet’s ‘Grand Reserve’ Brut. They’re widely available for $35 and always deliver smiles … If you’re ready to splurge, nothing beats Krug Grande Cuvée ($150). Whether you’re enjoying it with a Michelin-starred meal or takeout, it’s presence on a table makes a statement.”
—David White, author of But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine

 “Dom Pérignon P2 1998 Blanc, because it’s the iconic father of Champagnes. Its aging process takes 16-18 years, matured upside down to slow down oxidation. One of the most unique wines on the market in regards to flavor, winemaking and value.”
—Evan Puchalsky, Director of National Beverage and Bar Programs, STK Restaurants

 “Jérôme Prévost ‘La Closerie’ Les Béguines, Extra Brut Champagne 2009 — a relatively new producer making gorgeous, super-dry bubbly from 100% Pinot Meunier. A single vineyard, single vintage Champagne [that’s] all the rage among sommeliers.”
—Kathryn Coker, Wine Director/Co-Owner of Esters Wine Shop and Bar (Santa Monica)

 “That’s easy — 2004 Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. It’s an awesome vintage from a great champagne house — the oldest in existence, actually. The price is more than reasonable, the profile is awesome, and I love the squat bottles.”
—Johnny Swet, Head Mixologist at The Skylark (NYC)

 “Billecart-Salmon Rose. It’s quite possibly my favorite thing in the world to drink any day but is priced in more of the ‘special occasion’ range.”
—Eric Trousdale, Head Bartender at Arbella (Chicago)

Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Don’t worry, we’ve got the picks of 35 more experts — including sparkling wines from New Mexico, Spain and Austria, and even have a red wine or two — right this way.

rut, sec, blanc de blancs — What is this, French?

Now that you’ve got a great bottle in hand, it’s important to understand just what the hell you’re holding (you know, so you can talk about it, impress people, steal hearts, etc.). So here’s a brief pictorial guide to everything you should look for on a Champagne bottle.

And yes, that code at the bottom is important.


1) You need to see the word “Champagne” on the bottle. It means it’s actually the real thing, from France. We know this is beyond obvious, but if we don’t point it out, some poor gent is going to walk out of the Champagne section with Cava.

2) The name of the producer is most likely the largest text on the bottle. Unless you have a favorite or the host asked for a specific brand, name recognition isn’t the most important trait, however.

3) The sweetness level is something most people don’t consider, but it can be a crucial element. Sugar levels range from Brut Nature (dry, not very sweet) to Doux (Buddy the Elf). Here’s a breakdown:

Brut Nature: ≤ 3 g of sugar/liter
Extra Brut: ≤ 6 g/l
Brut: ≤ 12 g/l
Extra Sec (Extra Dry): 12-17 g/l
Sec: 17-32 g/l
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l
Doux: 50+ g/l

4) Apart from some variation on “Product of France,” the label may specify the town of production within the Champagne region. Reims and Épernay are the most common.

5) The grapes come from the same place, but the means of production vary widely. Along with numbers you recognize (like alcohol percentage and bottle volume), you will also see a code with two letters followed by numbers (e.g. NM-000-000). The letters denote the type of Champagne producer:

NM (Négociant Manipulant): Most common. These companies buy the grapes, juice or wine to make their Champagne.
RM (Récoltant Manipulant): Also known as “grower Champagne.” It means the wine producer also grew the grapes.
CM (Coopérative de Manipulation): A Champagne co-op that combines grapes from multiple vineyards to produce wine.
SR (Société de Récoltants): A firm of growers (not a co-op, but often a family) who collectively produce wine. |
RC (Récoltant Coopérateur): Co-op members who bottle the wine under their own name.
MA (Marque d’Acheteur): A buyer’s own brand where the client’s name appears along with the producer. 
ND (Négociant Distributeur): A seller who bought bottled wine, then labelled it.

6) Vintage might be your go-to signifier for a high-quality wine, but it’s not crucial when it comes to Champagne (and most are non-vintage). But if you’re looking for a specific vintage year, it will be indicated on the bottle. And if you see a date next to the words disgorged, disgorgement or dégorgement, you’re looking at the time the yeast was removed after the second fermentation, or the time the Champagne finished production. Two seemingly identical bottles of Champagne may have different dégorgement dates, meaning they will taste slightly different. This is not a sell-by date, expiration date or vintage indication. But it does help date non-vintage wines.

e went to a champagne party once. Was excellent. Not a champagne room, mind you — that’s a different how-to altogether. But this bubbly bacchanal was particularly memorable for the slap-your-forehead-how-do-more-people-not-think-of-this format that our lovely hostess concocted: The DIY Champagne Cocktail Bar.

Dead simple to replicate and a guaranteed hit with your guests.

Just follow these simple steps en route to a hangover that will be absolutely apocalyptic but totally worth it:

Step 1: Tell every guest to come with a bottle of at least semi-respectable Champagne — let’s say Korbel and above.

Step 2: Craft your bar. Your imagination is the limit here, but the following list is a great jumping-off point for what kind of stuff you can use (no need for all of it, just come up with what you can):

Spirits: Rum, Tequila, Bourbon, Vodka, Grand Marnier/Triple Sec, St. Germain, Créme de Cassis, Curaçao, Amaretto, Brandy, Tawny Port, Dark Rum, Aperol, Absinthe, Mezcal and Campari

Fruit Stuff: Peach, apricot, strawberry, blueberry or raspberry puree; orange, lemon, grapefruit, guava, passion fruit, pineapple or cranberry juice; and any type of fresh fruit or berry that will fit into a champagne flute

Other: Stout beer (yes, for real — mixing it with champagne is known as a “Black Velvet”), any kind of sorbet, simple syrup/honey, bitters and barware for measuring, etc.

Step 3: Print out some cheat sheets. You want to encourage experimentation, but also provide guidelines/inspiration. Write out a few recipe cards for existing champagne cocktails and leave them around the station — you can find an absolutely staggering wealth of options from bars all over the world right here. Label these cards with “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced” according to whatever arbitrary criteria you land on while glancing at the recipes.

ll bubb and no grub makes Jack a drunk boy.

So we asked Bill Brooks, Beverage Director at New York’s the Cannibal Liquor House, for some ideas on the ultimate New Year’s spread to pair with Champagne.

Here’s what we learned.

For your own sanity, set the table and forget about it.
“If i’m doing a house party and everyone is relaxing, I don’t want to worry about replating. It’s all about my interaction with my guests, so I like to let people pick at it throughout the night.”

Know your bottle and pair accordingly.
“Champagne is phenomenal with a lot of different foods, and it’s a great way to cleanse your palate in between courses. If i’m doing fresh charcuterie and pâté, I go for something lighter in style and body … If I’ve got the big 50-day dry-aged steak, I like a vintage Champagne with some hazelnut notes and more body, but still with a nice effervescence.”

Try these three meats for the ultimate charcuterie:

  1. A classic country pâté terrine
  2. A foie gras torchon
  3. A country-style American ham (“American hams differ because they’re smoked before they’re hung … you get a little bit of smoke but not bacon smoky — and sliced super thin.”)

And finish with:
“A fruit mostarda. Dijon will cut through everything. We like to fold a lot of fruit in with our mustards: blueberry, rhubarb. And quince with the foie gras.”

New Year’s toast: Champagne for my real friends. Real pain for my sham friends.

And when we wake up on New Year’s Day, another toast: Real pain for me and all my friends.

Because bubble trouble is real. Real as ladies who don’t think it’s necessary to wear tights to the party in 20-degree weather. It’s the fizz to blame … or maybe it’s you.

Anyway, you might feel like a bag of smashed a**holes in the morning, so let’s prepare, shall we?

Before you commence painting the town red …

1) Eat something. Don’t sleep on this. Wouldn’t hurt for your date to eat something, too.

2) Attempt to block alcohols conversion into aldehyde. Aldehyde equals pain. It’s easy-ish. Just take like 500% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C.

Once the games being …

3) A water for every cocktail. Just do it. At least for as long as you can remember to. It really does work.

Before hitting the sheets …

4) Have some more water and a couple of activated charcoal pills. Charcoal doesn’t absorb toxins. They just sort of cling to it for faster expulsion. Like Charlie Sheen at the Plaza, it’ll have that wretched mess out of there in no time.

5) Set an alarm. We dare you. Wake up 20 minutes before you “want” to get up, take two ibuprofen and chug down something with electrolytes like Gatorade, Smart Water, the good coconut water or Pedialyte.

When you wake up …

6) If you had one wish right now, it would be that someone else could adult for you today. But give yourself a little pep talk and get your hide out of that bed. Get the blood moving through the body. Own that pain and excommunicate it.

7) You gonna vom? Alkaseltzer. Fast. Your correspondent’s mother once gave it to her when she had a broken leg. Joke. But, seriously, is there anything it can’t cure? See also: ginger anything, but without sugar in it.

8) Shower. You need it.

9) Steam if you can. It’s a one-way ticket to not being a shadow of yourself.

10) Have a banana. Here’s why.

11) Did you shower? Do you have an amazing companion in your home? Awesome. Have some sex. Endorphins at the ready!

12) Don’t hesitate to hit the cheebah. It might even be legal where you are. It’s not for everyone, but if it works for you, do your thing, because man alive does it work. Plus, aren’t you on your way to brunch? Let’s make the most of that $40 Eggs Benedict.

13) Sunglasses.

14a) Did you vom? Yikes. You cooked it too long, plain and simple. Go back to bed and get more sleep.

14b) No vom? Congratulations. Go to brunch and keep your trap shut about the black plague within you. You brought this on yourself. Possible conversation pointers include: “Did anyone see the parade?”; “What’s the ski report right now?”; and “Has anyone seen Danny?”

Step 15) Take something for your liver. You and your body are going to be together for a long time if you play your cards right.

Stay safe and have a blast out there, ya filthy animals.