10 Things That Might Ruin Your Glass Of Champagne
10th August 2023
With over 300 million bottles sold a year on average in recent times, Champagne is a globally loved alcoholic drink! From party celebrations to fine dining with bubbly alongside gastronomical delights, Champagne fits in to many different occasions perfectly. It’s adaptability means it is a highly demanded style of wine and is increasingly easier to discover as networks of sellers globally expand – From London to Singapore, Champagne is firmly on the menu, but are there times and situations where we might not be getting the best from the bottle?
Warm Champagne: ‘There is nothing worse than warm Champagne’ is a phrase and one most certainly around for a reason. Champagne performs best around a certain temperature which is between about 8-10°C. If it is too chilled down you might be closing the aromas and flavours whereas too warm will reduce the effervescence (bubbles) and likely give a more bitter / acidic tasting experience. The ideal is to serve the Champagne chilled and for those preferring to let the Champagne breathe a little to express its complexity, allow it to slowly reach a cool room temperature.
Wrong choice: Not all Champagne tastes the same so it is advisable to study the label you are purchasing. Mostly variation in sugar levels is what sets labels apart, check out for wording to include extra brut, brut and demi-sec which will enable you to understand better the style of wine you are about to enjoy. If you prefer a drier style, less sugar, opt for an extra brut / zero dosage label and for those preferring sweeter then look out for sec / demi-sec. Brut sits nicely in the middle and is the more popular style that you will find.
Poor storage: For those of you enjoying bubbles at home and from bottles you’ve had for a while, then make sure you at the very least take care with how they were stored. The biggest factor damaging the Champagne quality in the bottle is light (known as light strike) which will reduce the quality and give an unpleasant damp cardboard character over any fresh fruity or floral notes. Temperature is also important as storing in warmer locations will simply speed up the ageing process and depending on level of heat, turn the wine sour. Make sure the humidity levels are fine for long term storage of Champagne and that bottles are kept on their sides at least so that the cork remains expanded in the neck so not to allow air in / Champagne out!
Conflicting foods: Many foods pair remarkably well with Champagne and it is not just oysters and caviar! From fish & chips to Thai curry, international cuisine styles fit nicely with the complex flavours and higher acidity of Champagne, but not always can we pair the two together. We should make sure that the style of wine, again mostly sugar content, pairs with the foods in question, and note that sometimes overpowering ingredients can ruin our glass of bubbly where flavours clash. The worst foods for Champagne include strong garlic dishes, very hot spicy foods, tomato led meals and brussels sprouts!
Cocktails: We all love the idea of cocktails and many times they include bubbly wines. Champagne features in plenty of cocktails with famous Champagne cocktails to include French 75, Black Velvet and the Mimosa. It is accepted that standard, non vintage Champagnes can be added to cocktails, though if you are looking to enjoy the finer labels then any other additional compliment, including ice, will not give you the end quality you are paying for. Many experts will say no to Champagne being added to cocktails – Though it’s a popular choice for many consumers!
What to drink from: Though we might see many drinking from the bottle, in the style of F1 celebrations, there are ways in which Champagne should be enjoyed. The best way to enjoy both the aromas and flavours (should you have the time to do so) is via a decent white wine glass with a larger bowl and slightly narrow rim area enabling plenty of area for the wine to breathe and to capture the aromas. You will be forgiven in thinking that the traditional flute glass is the chosen one for Champagne, but many wine experts will reject such a glass when tasting and reviewing. Drinking from the bottle will simply cause a volcano eruption of fizz on your palate (and likely up your nose too). Do not try to use a straw by the way!
Best before: Many Champagne are produced so to be enjoyed from purchase. Most of what is made will be non-vintage with a recommendation to drink within three years, otherwise a deterioration of quality can occur, leastways the wine will not perform as per the vision of the wine maker / the Champagne house’s identity. Some Champagnes though are intended for longer ageing and cope well with, when stored correctly, decades of waiting around until opened – These are usually vintage Champagne.
Speed is not the answer: Even though we might see Champagne as a drink to celebrate with and serve during parties and lively events, the speed in which we enjoy can also effect the quality. It’s fair to say that many people will not be a Champagne connoisseur neither a wine critic who enjoy a glass or two, not taking tasting notes and neither scoring when they’ve a glass in their hand so no one is monitoring your speed! Though how quickly you drink it will determine what enjoyment of any complexity you will take from your glass. Many, myself included, will like the wine to sit in the glass for a while and then study the aromas and enjoy the flavours. Champagne is not the ideal drink to quench one’s thirst and simply gulping down a few mouthfuls will not only limit the qualities you could enjoy, it can get you rapidly tipsy as the bubbles hit your blood flow!
Timing: It is advised that the best time to taste Champagne is later morning time to early afternoon. The reason being is that our palate is freshest having not long been cleansed by cleaning our teeth and before any major meals have taken place (granted, some of us enjoy a good old hearty breakfast!). Think about enjoying Champagne prior to overloading ourselves with too much food or alcohol, ideally not just after too much sweet food, avoid chewing gums. If you have a cold / flu or suffering from the likes of hay fever, then you’ll be limiting the aromas and flavours you should be enjoying.
Expectations: Price is not always an indication to the quality of Champagne you are about to enjoy. Though in life we can rest assured that the more expensive something is then the better quality it is likely to be, this will not always be the case with Champagne – Big marketing spends happen in the sector and this added cost can be placed on to the Champagne whereas a lesser known label will be cheaper though contain the same or if not better quality inside. It can pay you dividends to research your Champagne choices prior to purchasing and especially if spending a lot of money – You might be very disappointed by a luxury branded, shiny bottle costing you £100’s whereas a bit of advice from a Champagne expert could advise you to pay a lot less for more exceptional quality. Most times, supermarkets give an excellent choice of Champagne with even standard priced examples being of good to good+ standard as they employ the services of wine experts to choose their stock. Study Champagne selling websites to research tasting notes / scoring so you can see if those £100’s per bottle are really worth it…
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.