IMBIBE: Champagne Wishes

By on October 20, 2015

Celebrate the famous bubbles of France this week.

151021Imbibe_origIn my opinion, any day is a good day for Champagne. However, for those who need an official reason to celebrate bottled bubbles, Global Champagne Day is on Oct. 23. From Australia to Paris and Hong Kong to Rio, Champagne toasts will be in abundance on Champagne Day. A number of restaurants and bars throughout the country—STK in Las Vegas comes to mind—will offer a complimentary glass of Champagne to their guests on Champagne Day.

But, what of this stuff called Champagne? If you’ve only sipped Champagne at weddings, you might not be all that fond of it, since it was likely sickeningly sweet or brutally dry. Indeed, Champagne runs the gamut in styles from Gobi Desert dry to teeth-aching sweet.

First things first, though: Champagne is wine. To be called Champagne, it has to come from the Champagne region of France, about 90 miles northeast of Paris. California and other winemaking regions might produce excellent sparkling wines—wine with bubbles—but they are not Champagne. There are approximately 110 producers of Champagne in France—called houses—most based in Reims and Epernay.

Like most still wines—Sauvignon Blanc, for example—Champagne isn’t just one thing. It ranges widely in style and type, from very light to full-bodied and, as mentioned, from bone dry to very sweet. The most popular and common type of Champagne is golden-colored, and made by blending three Champagne-grown grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Also produced in Champagne are three other types: Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, and Rosé Champagnes.

Blanc de Blancs (white from whites) Champagnes are made solely from Chardonnay grapes, a style created by the founder of Salon Champagne, Eugène-Aimé Salon. Salon is the best Blanc de Blancs on the planet, and probably the most expensive. Taittinger and Krug are other consistently excellent producers of Blanc de Blancs.

Somewhat rare even in the Champagne region itself, Blanc de Noirs (white from blacks) is a pink-hued Champagne style made entirely from black grapes, usually Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. The House of Bollinger is France’s premier Blanc de Noirs Champagne producer.

Rosé Champagne is my personal favorite style, and after spending a week in Reims and Epernay, I really learned to love it with a wide variety of foods, from foie gras to a lunchtime croque-monsieur sandwich. Rosé Champagne is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but can vary greatly in ratio from producer to producer. You can find full-bodied Rosé Champagne that’s as much as four-fifths Pinot Noir, or a light, golden version that’s four-fifths Chardonnay, or anything in between. I especially like the Rosè Champagnes from Roederer, Gosset and Moët & Chandon.

As with most wines, it pays to read the labels on Champagne bottles. How else would you know if you’re buying sweet Champagne or dry (non-sweet)? For practical purposes, Champagnes are ranked and labeled according to sweetness or dryness. From least sweet (more dry) to most sweet (least dry) the categories you’re most likely to find are these: Brut (dry), Extra Dry (medium dry), Sec (slightly sweet), and Demi-Sec (very sweet). There are also extreme categories at both ends of the spectrum—Extra Brut (extremely dry) and Doux (extremely sweet)—but coming across these champagnes is relatively rare.

For celebrating Global Champagne Day, I suggest picking up a few bottles of the various styles of Champagne, varying in sweetness and dryness, and pop the corks with friends and family. À votre santé! PJH

About Ted Scheffler

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