“A little “extra” knowledge on Champagne is a powerful thing!”
Time and Place
The best time for Champagne tasting is in the morning particularly around 11 am. This is when your senses at their best. If you are tasting and comparing several Champagnes, it is best to serve them in the same type of glass and at the same temperature. Avoid tasting Champagne after a meal, and drinking coffee or other substances that will alter your palate. Also, avoid wearing perfume or cologne when you are tasting as they will mask the aromas in the wines.
Stemware: Flute, Coupe or Tulip?
Stemware is a personal preference. Stemware should be spotless, clean and free of any races of detergent or rinsing agent that might flatten the Champagne. The flute works better for young Champagnes served at the proper temperature. If you can, avoid the coupe, it might look sexy and sophisticated, but does nothing for the wine. If you are serving a “tête de cuvee” or super-premium Champagne my suggestion is to use the tulip – they are tall and large enough to allow the aromas to develop while maintaining elegance and depth. The tulip is used by wine makers for their daily tastings.
Decanting Champagne …Why?
Decanting is used to tame the most aggressive fizz, soften the mousse of young, non-vintage Champagne, and in particular, reserved for older mature wines to assist in opening them up to express their full bouquet. Decanting should be done with careful attention to the bubbles. A long decanter shaped like a lyre or “U” shape is used, it aerates the wine to release the aromas while preserving the bubbles. Ideally Champagne should be consumed 30 minutes to an hour after being decanted.
The ideal serving temperature is between 8° and 10° C. Cuvees of high quality and good maturity will be more appreciated at 12° C. The proper way to chill Champagne is to put the bottle in a bucket of ice water for about 20 minutes. Never put the bottle in the freezer as this can destroy the bubbles and aromas.
Fill the glass no more than two-thirds full allowing space for the aromas to circulate. Once the Champagne has been poured, allow some time for the wine to open up revealing its complexities and richness of its bouquet.
Tip: To prevent excessive loss of carbonation before drinking, Champagne should be carefully poured down the side of the flute rather than straight into the glass.
How To Taste Champagne
All five senses are approached when tasting Champagne. For our purposes, we are focusing on visual, smell, and taste.
Start by holding your glass over a white surface to examine its appearance. Define the colours, its depth and intensity. The wine should be limpid, sparkling or silky and absent of any particles. It should be more or less brilliant and transparent but not dull. The Colour Palate ranges from:
pale gold/green gold/grey gold/straw yellow/yellow gold/antique gold
Then examine the bubbles, are they:
do they form a ring?
are they discreet or intense?
Once the initial effervescence has subsided, bring the glass to your nose and inhale slowly, without swirling it around. Then, swirl it lightly two or three times to air it and to release the aromas. Try to identify the family of aromas and isolate the aromas that you recognize. The principal aromas in Champagne:
Floral: rose/lime blossom/orange blossom/ violet
Fruity: citrus/apples/pears/quince/peaches/apricots/nectarines/mango/banana/lychee/coconut/red berries/cherries/currents
Epicurean: Butter/brioche/toast/honey/candied fruit/vanilla/spices
Dried fruit: hazelnut/raisin/dried fig
The mouth indicates the balance of the wine (sugar and acidity) its texture and intensity. Take a sip and take note of the first impression [the attack]. It indicates the balance and the freshness of the wine. Then allow the wine to swirl around your mouth, inhale through your mouth and exhale through the nose to release the aromas and try to identify them.
Overall Impression: Fresh/Creamy/Delicate/Complex
Light/Heavy – Length is ________________
Remember aromas and flavours are subjective and there is no ‘right’ description of a wine – only what your senses tell you.
What was your overall perception of the Champagne? How will it mature? What dishes would you serve with it? A good Champagne deserves to be shares and talked about.
• Add a splash of bubble to your oysters for some added flavors
• A well-balanced and structured Champagne has great capacity to adapt to different food and flavors.
• Champagne has the ability to freshen our palate and never leave us with a dull or heavy mouth.