Imagine a soirée of luxury and grandeur, wandering through ballrooms in a Parisian villa with the music of a live orchestra playing in the background. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings, antique tapestries adorn the walls, women in evening gowns accompanied by men in black tie. In whatever season, for whatever reason, the moment will arrive when it’s time to raise a glass for a toast.
The perfect wine for the occasion? Obviously, the answer is champagne. The King of wines, champagne is the drinkable symbol of opulence par excellence. Its fame—and its cost—is the result of a long, time-consuming process and the careful choice of only high-quality grapes. It’s a legacy that dates all the way back to the second half of the 17th Century, when the Benedictine friar Dom Perignon from the French region of Champagne first created this precious wine.
Champagne is made with three different kinds of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, which are then pressed with the help of a “pressoir”, which helps to avoid contact between the must and the skins. This results in Cuvée, which is then left to ferment for a couple of days and then gets poured into special oak kegs. After about 10 weeks, the Cuvée is put into bottles, where yeasts and sugars are added—thereby initiating a second fermentation process. At this stage, the carbon dioxide remains in the bottle, which gives champagne its signature bubbles: the smaller they are, the higher quality of the wine. The last stage is that of aging, which lasts at least a year and a half, but often goes for five years and beyond. This classic, or “Champenoise” method employs a double fermentation, which is actually no different—from a scientific point of view—than the kind of single fermentation process found in bread or cider. Nonetheless, there are so many factors that go into making a champagne more or less “superior”, that you can even improve the quality of the bottles you have at home with just a few easy steps.
Let’s begin with how to conserve your precious bottles. Seeing as few of us are fortunate enough to have our own wine cellars, it’s important to follow a few basic rules. Champagne bottles should be kept horizontally in total darkness, in an area as still as possible, with a maximum humidity level of 60% and a temperature of around 12°C. Champagne should be served, however, at a VERY cold temperature—between 6°-7°C for a young bottle, and up to around 9°C for an aged one. But beware: this does not, under any conditions, mean you should ever place it in your freezer. One should bear in mind that the serving temperature should be reached very slowly—otherwise, the beloved bubbles could be sacrificed. Bottles can be chilled in the refrigerator, but in the least cold area, for 3-4 hours before serving.
After the cork is popped, however, there are still a few things to keep in mind. When champagne is poured into glasses, its temperature increases about 0.2°C per minutes. This is why it’s necessary to have an ice bucket on hand, and to pour small glasses. And second, the choice of glass—which in the case of champagne, is crucial. The ideal way to serve the drink is in a flute, as any wide-rimmed glasses should be avoided. The flutes should be carefully washed before use, rinsed with cold water to ensure a good, bubbly foam.
Following these rules, your prized bottle of champagne will delight you with its multitude of tiny bubbles—and make every evening worthy of a grand soirée. To make it even more special know how to pair it with water, read the gist on our water codex index.