A 60-Second Guide to Champagne

Buy the right bottle. Own 2016.

By The Editors
December 28, 2015 9:00 am

Ah, New Year’s.

Next to St. Paddy’s Day and Halloween, the most amateur of drinking nights.
But not for you. Because now you’ve got an expert on bubbly.

His name is Chris Adams, the CEO of Sherry-Lehmann, a famed Park Avenue wine and spirits store that’s been doling out expert advice since 1934 (or, three months after Prohibition ended). Also the folks who introduced Dom Perignon to America.

Unlike your getup, nothing fancy here. Just a quick guide to great champagne — and nothing you can’t run into a store and buy at the last minute.

Pretend I know nothing about champagne. I walk into a store on New Year’s Eve: What are the basic things I need to know before I select anything?
The most important thing to know is that not all sparklers are Champagne. The name Champagne is reserved for sparkling wines created in the Champagne region of France. They are considered the benchmark and have the pedigree — and the price tag — to prove it.  But there are a wide variety of other wonderful sparklers from around the world. Prosecco, Crémant and even California sparklers provide stellar options that are easier on the wallet.

Can you give me three picks at three different budgets?
For the guy living large, I would pick Dom Perignon 1998. P2 is a new, exciting offering from Dom Perignon, having been aged an additional 16 years to reach what they call the “second plenitude of Dom Perignon: the peak of energy, intensity, high definition and precision.” This is a gorgeous Champagne and comes presented in a beautiful brushed metal gift box.

For the crowd-pleasing guy: Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV. It was named “Special Cuvee” by Jacques Bollinger in 1921 to illustrate that a non-vintage Champagne could be of the same outstanding quality as a tête de cuvée. Hey, if it’s good enough for James Bond…

For the thoughtfully budget-minded, I would pick Pommery Brut Royal NV. Pommery is one of the truly great Champagne houses and the Brut Royal NV offers wonderful style at a great price.

What’s the best way to open a bottle of champagne? Is it sabrage? Please say it’s sabrage.
I would recommend opening the bottle with more care. Open the cage and gently twist and pull the cork to remove. You definitely want to keep the cork close by (and the bottle intact) to preserve the bubbles. Sabrage is great theater, but not the most practical.

Darn. What’s a good alternative to champagne?
Crémants are an excellent alternative. The term “Crémant” refers to French sparkling wines not made in the Champagne region. Many are still made using the traditional méthode champenoise, but simply fall outside the boundaries of the Champagne region.

Another great alternative, that surprises many, are California sparklers. Like Crémants, most California sparkling wines are also made in the méthode champenoise style and the majority use the same grapes as their French counterparts in Champagne.

Champagne cocktails…good or bad idea?
Cocktails are always a good idea! But definitely use a more budget-friendly sparkler. Save the Champagne for special occasions when it can shine without mixers.  

Thanks, Chris! Here a few more thoughts from yours truly at InsideHook:

A few years back, we interviewed Richard Juhlin, the “world’s foremost expert on champagne.” His ideal New Year’s would go as follows: “You should plan an early and long champagne dinner starting with some elegant canapés and a blanc de blancs like 2004 Pierre Peters les Chetillons, followed by a seafood salad and a bottle of 1999 R.Lalou from Mumm. Then a turbot with champagne sauce and 2002 Henriot and finish with a bottle of Bollinger, Krug or Gosset with a partridge or quail with mushrooms. Skip champagne for dessert and let the cork fly with sabrage with a sable at the strike of midnight and choose a simple non-vintage, since it’s time for celebration, not focused enjoinment.”

If Miller High Life is the champagne of beers, what is the Miller High Life of champagne?
According to the 1958 Doris Day movie The Tunnel of Love, it’s Piper-Heidsieck.

I liked your Oscar Wilde quote about Champagne. Where may I discover some more bubbly bons mots like that?
Here’s good.

Look, I’m totally going to open the bottle with a saber now. You might as well tell me how so I don’t kill my guests.
Go for it.


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