“Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right,” opined the late great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many would tend to agree with Ole’ Fitzgerald, and fortunately this New Year’s may be the first one in a long time that those of us longing to party like rock stars can afford the good stuff.
Shipments of champagne to the United States plummeted 41.2 percent from January to August, according to the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. arm of the region’s official trade group. The surplus left in storerooms still exceeds current demand, the excess supply resulted in major price slashing and good deals for the common man. Bargain champagne here we come!
Before you pop the cork to ring in the New Year make sure that you know how to choose quality champagne at an awesome price to get the best bubbly for your New Year’s Eve blow-out.
Things You’ll Need:
* A reason to celebrate (or not)
Step 1: Go for the authentic.
Champagne is a sparkling wine, made in the Champagne region in the North East of France. The only wine that is legally allowed to be called “champagne” is wine that has been produced in this region.
Step 2: Select a well-known marque.
If you aren’t a bubbly connoisseur and not exactly sure how to start whittling down your choices from the vast assortment of sparkling wines, it is best stick to the tried and true brands.
These include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Moet et Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Joseph Perrier, Ruinart, Taittinger and Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin.
Choosing a bottle from one of these well-respected labels is a great start to discovering which champagne best suits your palate.
Step 3: Pick a blend.
Most houses produce several blends or varieties, or “cuvées,” of champagne. Nonvintage cuvées are blends that epitomize the house’s signature style, with little variation over the years, according to Natalie MacLean, a sommelier and author of “Red, White and Drunk All Over.”
Although these bottles are the least expensive produced by a marque, they can be of awesome quality. Often more than 100 different wines from different years are included in the blend.
Vintage or dated bottles are only produced when a season’s harvest is remarkably good. “You’re going to taste the difference the weather makes each year,” MacLean says of vintage bottles, which houses create at their own discretion.
Expect to pay twice the amount of a nonvintage blend – and even more for an exceptionally strong growing year. If you have your heart set on a vintage bottle, do your research and find out which have been good growing years.
Prestige cuvées are a house’s creme de la creme and offer you the opportunity to party like a real rock star. We’re talking champagnes like Cristal or Dom Perignon. “These wines are, quite simply, the house’s best of the best in a vintage year,” says Emanuelle Chiche, managing director of The Bubble Lounge, a sparkling wine and champagne bar with locations in New York and San Francisco. Prestige cuvées are held to higher standards of production and are made in limited quantities from the first pressing of the very best grapes. Know that you will definitely pay bigger bucks for the best.
Step 4: Smell the age.
Champagne aromas develop with age. The wine is matured in producers’ cellars for at least 15 months for non-vintage champagne, three years for vintage wines and even longer for prestige cuvées, before they are released onto the market.
Generally speaking, the older the bottle the more developed and nuanced its flavor, says Eric Benn, co-owner of The Bubble Lounge. A non-vintage blend should be drunk within three years, while a vintage bottle can usually be kept for 10 to 15 years. But older isn’t always better, he cautions – you’ll need to have great faith in your supplier that the bottle has been transported carefully and stored properly over the years. You can tell the age of the sparkling wine by drinking in (smelling) the the following aromas:
Age 15 months to 3 years: White flower, citrus and fresh fruit aromas.
Age 3 to 5 years (Mature): Bold summer flowers or ripe/stewed fruit aromas dominate.
Age five years or more: Bouquets of dried flowers and grilled nuts.
Step 5: Choose your dosage.
Once the bubbly has aged sufficiently, a certain amount of sugar is added, known as the dosage. There are many different dosages of champagne, but you can usually get an idea as to what the dosage is by reading the label. The most common dosages are extra brut, brut and demi-sec. Extra brut or ultra brut champagne contain no added sugar/dosage so they are the best choice for dieters. They are very dry wines.
Brut champagne wines are very dry, but slightly sweeter than extra brut, and they contain a very low amount sugar. They are perfect for most occasions, which is why they are the most popular variety of champagne sold today. Champagne makers save their best grapes for this category.
More sugar is added to demi-sec champagne wines than to brut champagne wines. This gives them a sweet taste. As a result they go swimmingly with desserts.
Step 6: Roll the bubbles around.
If given the opportunity to taste various sparkling wines before your purchase, take the time to observe the bubbles. Tasty champagne generally has small bubbles that quickly make their way to the top of a fluted champagne glass.
Take a sip and roll the bubbles around in your mouth. Take note of how strong the fizz becomes. Enjoy the feel and notice whether the bubbles are fine or coarse. As you taste more champagnes and sparkling wines, you will soon see the difference. Discover which type of bubbles you enjoy more.
Step 7: Make your own decision.
Choosing champagne is the same process as buying jewelry, a new car, clothes, or furniture. You know your own taste and price range best.
If possible, don’t leave the choice up to someone else. Pamper yourself a little this New Year’s Eve and pick something that excites you and adds to the festive mood. Go for something that you couldn’t have afforded in the past but with the current price cuts is just within your reach this year.
By choosing what you like you may end up quoting Dom Perignon, who at the moment of his discovery of champagne exclaimed, “Come quickly, I am tasting stars!”