The Beginner’s Guide to Tasting Champagne

Champagne has long been associated with special occasions. The pop of a cork and sparkling flutes filled with crisp, light bubbles go hand in hand with any celebration. While many of us enjoy a glass of champagne during wedding toasts or a New Year’s Eve count down, there is a whole lot more to this delightful beverage.

Champagne is very versatile. Here is a beginner’s guide on how to enjoy and taste champagne like a pro:

Selection

Choosing the perfect champagne is the first step. Champagne is famed as an exclusive, widely, enjoyed drink. It is the name given to sparkling wine produced only in the Champagne region of France. Wine makers have to follow a strict set of rules to produce legitimate champagne.

The bubbles are one of the most important aspects of a great bottle of champagne creating the light, crisp taste. With 21 million bubbles in a single flute of champagne, its no surprise they are so integral.

Three kinds of grapes can be used to produce Champagne – chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. ‘Blanc de Blancs’ or “white from whites” is made entirely from chardonnay grapes and has a delicate and creamy taste. ‘Blanc de noir’ or “white from black” is a blend of dark grapes and has a fruity, earthy aroma. Lastly, Rose is a blend of all three grapes and provides a fresh, fruity aroma. Choose the one that appeals most to you – you can very rarely go wrong with a bottle of bubbly.

Store

When storing your champagne, there are a few important aspects to note to ensure the most enhanced tasting experience.

The temperature is integral. Too cold and the flavours will be lost. Too hot and the bottle is in danger of exploding when opening causing the champagne to go flat. Ideally store it at 4.5 – 7 degrees Celsius for 3 – 4 hours in a fridge (never a freezer). When using an ice bucket, fill the bucket with equal parts ice and water and let the bottle sit for half an hour. Both techniques will ensure you have the perfect glass of bubbly in your hands!

Serve

Now for one of the most exciting parts – the serving! While the stereotype is to hear corks popping, that is the opposite of what we want when opening a bottle of champagne. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, grip the cork and turn the bottle slowly. It should open with a “sigh”.

Champagne flutes are the most popular (and stylish) way to enjoy champagne as they enhance the bubbles and flavour. Fill the glass 2/3s of the way and get sipping. Wine glasses also do well as the shape helps capture the champagne’s bouquet.

Pair

Most of us think of champagne only being enjoyed during special toasts alongside canapés and small treats. But this drink is very versatile and can hold its own against a variety of dishes.

Champagne pairs well with most foods just not excesses such as super spicy dishes or super sweet desserts. It does well with fish, seafood, creamy pastas and heavier meals such as beef and duck. Play around with salt and crunchy foods – even popcorn and potato chips!

Where to enjoy

Now that you now how to taste your champagne, you have to decide where to enjoy it.

South Africa is home to a number of beautiful wine estates where you can enjoy imported champagne or locally produced Method Cap Classiques. Visit and enjoy the bubbles and breathtaking views.

Alternatively, buy wine online and enjoy a flute or two from the comfort of you own home. You can even test out the popcorn and potato chip pairing!

— Alexandra Edwards, Wine of the Month

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