Champagne is usually the first beverage on the shopping list when there's a big celebration coming up--whether it's a wedding, anniversary, birthday or congratulatory party of any kind. Many hosts and hostesses have their preferences of brands and dryness, while others are just aware that they like it and it means celebration.
Sally McFadden of Domaine Chandon in Yountville, Calif., has been touring the country, educating the public on the do's and don'ts of buying and serving Champagne at home.
You can apply the principles to any Champagne, of course, starting with the occasion for serving the bubbly beverage.
No. 1 Sparkling Wine
Champagne, McFadden says, is fast becoming the No. 1 sparkling wine and consumption in the United States is increasing.
"Only 10 years ago, the market share for Champagne was near zero. Today, Champagne constitutes 7.5% of all wines consumed in the United States, and that's pretty high for a sparkling wine," she said.
Everybody knows why one would serve Champagne: It's a natural celebration beverage that comes with built-in sound effects--the popping of the cork and the sizzle of the bubbles.
Another reason is that it can be an economical beverage to serve a large crowd, if you hunt around for bargains. You can also stretch the cost of Champagne by diluting it with juice, soda and ginger ale as in mimosas (fruit juice and Champagne), spritzers and punches. Champagne also contains 2% less alcohol than most California wines and is far less alcoholic than hard liquor.
Champagne goes especially well with appetizer foods, such as smoked salmon, chicken or turkey and light meats. It's good with fish and shellfish and is especially complementary with smoked almonds and other nuts. It's a natural with caviar and the creamier varieties of cheese, such as Brie, chevre (goat cheese) and fresh Italian mozzarella or mascarpone.
With Any Course
It's one of few wines that can be safely served with any course, including dessert. It's also one of the most suitable of all wines for varied tastes.
Champagnes come in varying degrees of dryness, with the driest known as brut, extra dry for slight perceptible sweetness, sec for noticeably sweet, demi-sec for very sweet and doux for super sweet. However, sec, demi-sec and doux Champagnes and sparkling wines are seldom seen in the United States and are considered strictly dessert wines.
Blanc de Noirs are the designation for slightly tinted sparkling wine made from black grapes (usually Pinot noir). Blanc de Noirs are not like true Champagne rose, which is made by coloring the free-run juice of the grapes with some red wine from the Champagne region.
Champagnes designated as Blanc de Blancs are made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, the only white grapes allowed in French Champagne. Only sparkling wines made in the strictly delimited Champagne region northeast of Paris are Champagne. No other region can use the name. The exception is the United States, where laws governing "appellations d'origine" are not enforceable.) In the United States, the name Champagne is used as a generic term to describe all sparkling wines and is not related to place of origin.
French sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region are known as vins mousseux. In Italy the Italian word for sparkling wine is spumante with the best thought to be Asti Spumante, a sweet sparkling wine from the Piedmont region made partly with Muscat grapes. Sekt is the German word for sparkling wine. Cava is the term used to describe sparkling wines produced in Spain.
Sparkling wines are made in Australia, South America and Russia, among other places, with most favoring sweet wines.
You might, during the holiday season, want to consider offering international sparkling wines in a tasting with appetizers for the fun of it, or stick to Champagne (French or U.S.) of varying degrees of dryness and sweetness.
Next week: More on Champagne -- opening the bottle, pouring, storing, glasses.