Champagne Tasting
credits: Diário Online

Champagne Tasting

The end of the year comes, and when we talk drinks, the most disputed one is Champagne. It seems inevitable not think about it when there is something to celebrate. Fortunately, sparkling wine in general have been having their consumption increased significantly. In parts, that happens because champagne is no longer seen as a product for festive dates, as it used to be. It has been also seen as an option to accompany meals. Besides, the interest of the female drinkers on champagne has been notorious in several countries.

In Réveillon, we see people having their champagne or sparkling wines in several ways. Some shake the bottle as if they had won a prize, other have a sip of it in plastic glasses, while others drink straight from the bottle, no matter if it is chill or not. After all, special moments such as the New Year allow us to do things we usually wouldn´t. There is no doubt that, while partying, the most important is to wish the year to come is great for all.

Leaving celebrations aside, I will now talk about champagne tasting, and some of the aspects we have to consider while drinking it.

Opening the bottle
One of the most important characteristics are the champagne bubbles. Carbon dioxide is produced in the bottle during the second fermentation process, part of the Champenoise method. These bubbles take time to be formed, and we can easily waste them if we don´t have some care. Champagne is splendid, therefore delicate.

I won´t describe step-by-step the way a sommelier should open a champagne bottle in a restaurant, but I´ll give a few recommendations nonetheless. The cork must be gently removed, without producing noise. Needless to say that during the process it is important to keep the thumb holding the cork, in order to avoid common accidents such as hurting someone in the face.  

Always with the goal of keeping the bubbles, we should carefully proceed. The adequate glass for having champagne is the flute glass, and we should serve it in two times. First, pour a little bit for the glass to cool, and then pour the rest, filling 2/3 for the glass. With that, we keep most of the bubbles, differently of what happens when we pour it all at once.

The is a study that shows an even better way to do it. It says we should hold the glass by its stem, incline it, and only then gently pour the drink, sliding it by the sides of the glass.

Tasting and characteristics
The first contact is always visual. The color may vary, going from light yellow to intense gold. This is due to the type of the wine, amongst other factors. What draws the most attention, therefore, is the bubble formation, which are preferably small and abundant.

In tastings, we usually visually analise the bubbles and judge the quality of the drink. On the other hand, we also need to consider that the bubble formation can be influenced by several reasons. For example, if we serve it in a perfectly smooth glass, bubble would not be formed. If the glass is not quite clean, or if there is a residue of cleaning products, such as soap and detergents, bubble formation is also compromised.

The second step is to try and recognize the aromas. Champagne can offer many different sensations to those who taste it, usually elegantly and subtly. Of course some are more aromatic than others, and some of these subtleties can make a big difference.

If we have a wine produced with the three typical grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir), the Chardonnay grants fine and elegant aromas, of exotic tropical fruits, such as pineapple, pear, citrus fruits, and white flowers. The  Pinot Meunier has delicate fruit aromas, as peaches and apricots; whereas the Pinot Noir contributes with aromas of red fruits such as cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and floral notes of roses and violets. These aromas are most evident when we deal with younger champagnes. With time, notes of honey, nuts, figs, mushroom, coffee, and cocoa appear, which convert in a complex aroma.

When tasting, fine and delicate bubbles demonstrate that we are in the presence of a good sparkling wine. That is why I emphasized in trying not to waste them. I always say the good bubble is the one that comes into our mouth and caresses our palate. If it is big, somewhat aggressive, it indicates the products did not go through an adequate production process.

Acidity is also very important, for being responsible for the drink´s structure, longevity, and freshness. There is no need to have it too chill. The temperature recommended for having champagne is of 6°C to 8°C, and for the excellent vintage ones, due to their structure and complexity, 8°C to 10°C would suffice.

Regarding the grapes, Chardonnay brings finesse and elegance; Pinot Meunier is light and fresh; and Pinot Noir is well structured.

What it goes with
Champagne goes with many different moments and dishes for being a versatile drink. Its bubbles, acidity and other characteristics harmonize well with lots of meals, even those that are traditionally had with other drinks. Besides, there are versions with different amounts of sugar, going from the extra Brut to the sweet ones. It can be served with haute cuisine dishes up to desserts.

On the other hand, I am not one of those who say champagne goes with everything. I cannot imagine a drink seen as a universal harmonizer, even though I recognize that, if there is one that gets close enough to that, it certainly is champagne.

My recommendation is that when you get to drink a quality wine, before thinking what to harmonize it with, think who´ll you going to have it with.

Cheers, and have a happy new year!

Mario R. Leonardi

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