Let's toast! No celebration is complete without a Champagne toast. Learn about Champagne, other sparkling wines, and how to serve them.
Vintage vs. Non-Vintage Champagne
All Champagnes are made from grapes grown in France's northeastern region, the Champagne province. Most Champagnes are non-vintage: that is, they are made from a blend of grapes from different years, aged in the bottle for 18 months. Vintage Champagne is made with high-quality grapes from the same year; they must be aged three years before they are released.
Champagnes from Dry to Sweet
In addition to classifying Champagne as vintage or non-vintage, 6 classifications are used to refer directly to the Champagne's sweetness:
- Brut: dry, less than 1.5% sugar
- Extra Sec: extra dry, 1.2 to 2% sugar
- Sec: medium sweet, 1.7 to 3.5% sugar
- Demi-Sec: sweet, 3.3 to 5% sugar (Served as a dessert champagne)
- Doux: very sweet, over 5% sugar (Served as a dessert champagne)
Other Wines with Bubbles
Sparkling wines made by the same process can't be called Champagne unless they're made in their namesake French region. Chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are the main varieties used to make Champagne, and they're grown all over the world; many regions produce fine sparkling wines that are somewhat less expensive and more widely available than French Champagne. Italian Prosecco and Asti, Spanish Cava and German Sekt are all delicious varieties of sparkling wine.
As a side note: the small clusters of grapes sold in the supermarket as "champagne grapes" are just using the cachet of the name: they're actually fresh zante currants.
Chill the wine in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Open the bottle by twisting off the wire cage over the cork, keeping your thumb over the cork. Keep the bottle at an angle, with the cork pointing away from you. Grasp the neck of the bottle with a dry cloth; with your thumb over the cork, gently twist the bottle. You should feel the cork easing itself loose. Don't go for the dramatic pop: removing the cork should be almost soundless.
Serve Champagne in clean, dry flutes -- narrow glasses with tall sides -- which show off the color and the fine bubbles while keeping the carbonation from dissipating. "Prime" the glasses by pouring a small amount of wine into the bottom of each glass, letting the foam subside before filling them fully.