At first glance, Champagne seems like a straightforward drink: You pop the cork, it fizzes, you pour it into a glass and enjoy it.
But for the inexperienced, there are several common mistakes which can make champagne a bitter drink, indeed! Here’s a list of mistakes to avoid if you want your champagne experience to be the very best.
Mistake #1: Spending Too Much Money
Champagne is a prestigious drink that has its roots in French nobility. Even today, it is associated with wealth and affluence. The price tag often reflects this fact, with vintage bottles selling for hundreds of dollars apiece.
Don’t let your champagne purchase become tainted by buyer’s remorse. Some wine merchants will try to sell you the most expensive brands, especially if they sense that you’re a new buyer with lots of money to spend. You can fight this upsell strategy by defining your budget beforehand, and sticking to it.
Remember: There are hundreds of champagne brands with quality offerings in every price range. A little research will point you toward the best brand for your special occasion.
Mistake #2: Popping the Cork
Flying corks can be amusing, but real champagne connoisseurs know better than to waste their beverage by letting it erupt all over their guests. To open the bottle the right way, keep the champagne chilled at 45 degrees for a couple of hours. Avoid moving or disrupting the bottle during this time.
When it’s time to serve the drinks, gently remove the bottle and hold the neck with a towel. Drape the towel over the cork and carefully remove the wire cage. The cork might pop at this point, but the towel will prevent spills and mishaps.
If the cork did not pop, lay the bottle on its side and grip the cork through the towel. Use your other hand to turn the bottle until the cork comes free.
Mistake #3: Improper Storage
In order to taste its best, champagne must be stored in a cool, dark place where it is protected from sunlight and disturbance. The bottles should be stored horizontally so that the liquid inside stays in contact with the cork. (A dry cork allows air to enter the bottle, degrading the flavor of the champagne.)
The best place to store champagne is in a dedicated wine cellar, a dark cabinet in an out-of-the-way place, or the back of your closet. An ambient temperature of 45 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 70% humidity, is optimal. Never store champagne in a refrigerator for more than a few hours prior to serving, or you could get a nasty-tasting surprise!
Mistake #4: Gulping it Down
Fine wines should be savored with all the senses, giving the drinker an unforgettable experience rather than a quick taste. Never gulp down your champagne without first inhaling its aroma, feeling the bubbles on your lips, and swishing a bit around in your mouth before swallowing. If you’re pairing your champagne with cheese or fruit, take a nibble just before you sip to really bring out the flavor of both food and champagne.
Just like you wouldn’t want to wolf down a meal of lobster and filet mignon, you don’t want to chug your champagne. Besides missing out on a truly sensual experience, you could get an embarrassing case of gas from all of those bubbles! Drink it slowly to make the enjoyment last.
Mistake #5: Pairing it With the Wrong Food
Heavy food pairs best with a rich, full-bodied wine. This is especially true of red meats like beef and lamb, which are perfectly matches for deep, dry red wines. Champagne is typically too delicate and effervescent to be a good match for such hearty fare.
Champagne is best before or after your meal. To make the most of your champagne, drink a nice Brut with caviar or shrimp appetizers. Pair an Extra Dry or Extra Sec with rindless Brie and Chevrie on toasted French bread, accompanied by ripe strawberries. Drink a Moscato or Asti champagne with your decadent dessert, or while sampling sweet fruits like pears and grapes.
Mistake #6: Serving at the Wrong Temperature
Champagne should be served chilled. If you look at champagne cocktail recipes, most of them advise you to serve the drink in a chilled glass. That’s because champagne really loses something if you allow it to get too cold or too warm.
For the best flavor, purchase your champagne just one day or even a few hours before you plan to serve it. Keep it cold in your refrigerator until your big event. After you’ve opened the bottle, keep it on ice to sustain the chill. Serve the champagne in chilled flutes or saucers for the best effect.
Mistake #7: Ignoring Sparkling Wines
When is champagne not Champagne? When it’s from anywhere outside the Champagne region of France. That leaves us with hundreds of varieties of “sparkling wines”. They look and taste like Champagne, but purists insist in differentiating between the two.
So should you limit yourself to only Champagne with a capital “C”? Absolutely not! Some of the world’s best sparkling wines come from various regions of France, Italy, and California. These brands also tend to be more affordable than the traditional marques of Champagne, France. Don’t be afraid to give them a try.
Mistake #8: Believing Champagne Myths and Fallacies
Champagne is sometimes maligned for causing headaches, for having a wasteful production process, and for being far too expensive for the common man to enjoy. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Champagne is no more likely to cause headaches than any other alcohol. In fact, it has a relatively low alcohol content, which is less likely to cause hangover effects. Headaches are caused by dehydration, a common side-effect of overconsumption of alcohol. As long as drinkers drink in moderation and keep themselves hydrated, headaches won’t be a problem.
Some newspapers have reported that champagne-makers harvest only a few batches of grapes for their limited-production wines, and allow the rest of the harvest to rot on the vines. Not true, say growers who usually need to harvest as many grapes as possible to get the best-tasting juice.
Finally, tales of $35,000 bottles of champagne are true, but extremely rare. You can find champagne for only a few dollars, but the best casual varieties will cost closer to $20. Expect to pay $40 – $80 for a fine bottle, or more for a rare vintage. Despite the drink’s elite reputation, there are champagnes to fit every budget.
Mistake #9: Choosing a Too-Sweet Champagne
Most people prefer Brut, or dry, champagne. That’s because the sweetest champagnes are very sweet, and only suitable as dessert wines. If you’re looking for a good middle-of-the-road flavor, choose Brut or Extra Dry. Sec and Doux are extremely sweet, so drink with caution.
Mistake #10: Giving Up Before Finding the Perfect Champagne
It can take some time to find your perfect champagne, but it’s time well spent. Expext to spend weeks or even months sampling different varieties. To speed things along, host a champagne-tasting party where you will be exposed to lots of different flavors. Stick to recognized brands that fit easily within your budget, and you’ll be glad you stayed the course when you finally indulge in that heavenly sip.