Bubbles & Holidays: A Perfect Pairing
Bubbles & Holidays: A Perfect Pairing What to Serve, How to Serve, The Toast
Holiday parties are upon us. Nothing sets the stage for a party guest more perfectly than being offered a glass of bubbles from an ornate silver tray. Great bubbles are found all over the world. All special occasions call for sparkling wine, but winter holiday parties demand an impressive sparkler. I receive more emails requesting sparkler and Champagne suggestions in December than at any other time of the year. People are confused with how to select a type or style of sparkling wine. Should it be domestic or international? How should it be chilled and served? What food pairs with sparkling wines? They even ask, “What is the proper etiquette for giving a Champagne toast?” These questions are answered here including A Champagne Primer discussing wine sweetness levels, bottle sizes, and defining terms of style and production.
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I’m not.”
– Coco Chanel
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Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine
Great bubbles are found everywhere, but only Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France. Cremant can also come from the French regions of Loire, Alsace, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Sparkling wines come from many other regions: Shiraz or Chardonnay from Australia and Tasmania; American sparklers from many states including California, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, or New York; Cava from Spain; sparklers from South Africa; Prosecco or Franciacorta from Italy; Sekt from Germany, Austria, or the Czech Republic; and now British sparkling wines. Choose the one that fits your budget or the event.
“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.”
– Charles Dickens
Chilling, Opening, and Serving Sparkling Wine
Before serving, chill the wine well by placing the bottle in a bucket filled with ice and just enough water to make a slurry for 30 minutes.
The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is equivalent to that of a large tire so be aware of flying cork consequences. Turn the wire 5 ½ twists. Slant the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from guests and untwist the bottle instead of the cork leaving the wire muzzle loosely coupled for safety and leverage.
Grasp the cork firmly, twist the bottle slowly, and let the pressure help ease out the cork while maintaining greater pressure on it. A maiden’s sigh is the sound to aim for, not a loud pop.
Serve in tall flute, tulip glasses, or coupes (modeled supposedly after Marie Antoinette’s breast) at a temperature of 42-47 degrees. Pour a small amount into the glass, allow the bubbles to settle, then top up to about 2/3 full. Let it be consumed fully and do not “top it up,” so that it again can be enjoyed chilled.
Food pairing for Champagne spans from appetizers to main courses and desserts. Pair Champagne with Oysters Rockefeller and Smoked Salmon toasts points with cream cheese. Salty choices always work with dry sparkling wines. Popcorn tossed with Parmesan cheese and olive oil is a simple example. Follow the wine and dessert pairing guideline: make sure the Champagne is sweeter (demi-sec through Doux) than the dessert or the wine will fall flat.
“Come quickly, I’m tasting the stars!”
– Dom Perignon shouts to his fellow monks regarding his Champagne
Special occasions often require you to give a Champagne toast for the gathering. A few guidelines follow. Spontaneous toasts only look that casual. Select the right words and practice them. A touch of humor is rarely out of place. Understand that you may be recorded and tweeted later, so be appropriate. When ready, make sure that everyone has been poured a glass of wine. Say, “May I have your attention” vs. beating on the glassware with utensils. Stand up. Look and speak directly to the Toastee, first and last, while in between address the rest of the audience. Don’t gesture with your glass or you may slosh the wine. A toast of 90 seconds or less in length is always appreciated. Finally say, “Let’s welcome, Max,” “Let’s celebrate Max, a great friend,” “To Max,” or another appropriate ending. Tip your glass and take a sip of wine at the end of the toast. All special occasions call for Champagne, but winter holiday parties demand a festive sparkler. Cheers!
“In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it”
– Winston Churchill
Dom Perignon X Lady Gaga Vintage with Gift Box, Champagne, France, $230
Wine Spectator, 96 Points
A graceful and rich Champagne, featuring notes of toasted brioche, tangerine, candied ginger, and lime blossom. The palate provides an acidic backbone that supports the wine's supple and creamy texture, fine mousse, and long, lingering finish.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siécle No 24 Sun King Jacket Bottle with Gift Box, Champagne, France, $160
Wine Enthusiast, 96 Points
This is Laurent-Perrier’s prestige cuvée, and the 24th blend of the Grand Siécle. This wine comes from the grand cru vineyards and features aromas of almond, white friends, mandarin orange, gingerbread, and smoke.
Domaine Carneros Cuvée del la Pompadour Brut Rose, Carneros, California, $40
Wine Enthusiast, 95 points
Estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay make up this dry, nutty, and spicy sparkler which features the creaminess of brioche and baked apple.
Best Value and Unusual Sparklers from Other Locations
Ferghettina Franciacorta Milledi Brut 2015, Lombardy, Italy, $65
Wine Enthusiast, 91 points
This is a vintage sparkler from the best region of Italy featuring aromas of bread crust, honey, and white stone fruits….a brisk and refreshing wine.
Rating: Wine & Spirits, 90 Points
See my recent newsletter: Gruet Winery: A Premium Sparkling Producer in New Mexico, “French Roots and American Dreams.” This wine is an expressive sparkler with its floral apple and toasty cinnamon aromas with layers of lime and minerals. A very good value.
91 Points, Wine Spectator
Fresh strawberry, pomegranate, and mandarin orange flavors abound in this refreshing rosé from one of the best producers in Tasmania (south of Australia.)
Decanter Magazine, 90 Points.
This NV Brut is a blend of 47% Pinot Noir and 53% Chardonnay. It offers attractive scents of apple and citrus fried and creamy lees. There is a fine delineation and focus here that we might expect from acclaimed winemaker Pieter Ferreira. The palate is well balanced with commendable weight and volume in the mouth.
A Champagne and Sparkling Wine Primer for Subscribers
This primer includes terms of Champagne bottle size (Magnum, Balthazar, etc.) and sweetness levels (Brut, demi-sec, etc.). It also includes Champagne and Sparkling terms (NV, Prestige Cuvée, etc.) and types of Champagne producers (NM, Négociant, etc.)
Wine Wanderings Editorial Calendar for 2022. What to Expect?
I have a planning session happening this week for 2022. Articles will include the best of 2021 detailing which article had the most “views.” I have upcoming trips planned to wine countries in Europe: France, Austria, Germany, and Italy, pandemic notwithstanding. Domestic trips may include: Oregon, California, Texas, and yes, North Carolina. Expect some additional cocktail mixology and spirits stories too.
Again, thank you for your support in the inaugural Wine Wanderings year. It has been my pleasure to write for you.