Popping the cork of a champagne bottle is one of the best ways to kick off a celebration. (A glass or two of the bubble stuff has also been shown to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.) But are you getting as much out of the magical beverage as you possibly can? Here, a few tips to elevate your bubbles game.
THE BUBBLES IN A FLUTE MIGHT BE PRETTY, BUT THE GLASS IS ALL WRONG FOR BUBBLES.
DITCH THE FLUTE
Dustin Wilson, one of only 230 master sommeliers in the world and proprietor of the new retailer Verve Wine (launching this month), says that “standard wine glasses are definitely the way to go for champagne.” Flutes, he says, were “designed to hold the bubbles longer (that’s what the narrow shape is good for), but aren’t the best for actually enjoying the champagne. You want to be able to swirl it around in your glass, stick your nose in there, and take in all the fun aromas, which you can’t do with a traditional flute.” Wilson recommends the Zalto Universal glass, which he sells, and says using one compared to a flute “is like cruising the highway in a brand-new Ferrari versus a used Toyota Corolla.”
Switching from drinking champagne out of a flute to a wine glass “is like cruising the highway in a brand-new Ferrari versus a used Toyota Corolla.”
While flutes may have their place for bubble fanatics, they’re not common in high-end restaurants. In fact, at this weekend’s La Fête du Champagne in New York, the festival co-founder and Dinex Group Wine Director Daniel Johnnes said that everyone on an American Express-sponsored champagne-pairing panel of top sommeliers serves champagne out of a standard wine glass at their restaurants. “Champagne is a wine,” Johnnes said after the panel, “and it deserves to be served in the best possible glassware to allow the wine to express itself in the best way.”
THE COUPE IS EVEN WORSE
“Oh my god, that’s so archaic, outdated, and irrelevant,” Johnnes, who works with all of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants and founded the champagne-focused event three years ago, says of the glass with debunked but romantic allusions to part of Marie Antoinette’s anatomy. “It really doesn’t capture the aromas at all. They just totally escape. They’re also unwieldy because of the size of the bowl. They can be very pretty, but I would never serve anything in it. How’s that for an opinion?”
MAKE SURE IT’S COLD WHEN YOU PULL THE CORK
“If your bottle is warm, there is a risk that the cork will release from the bottle very quickly and you might lose some of the wine in the bottle,” Jack Mason, another master sommelier, says. Quelle horreur! Keeping it cold reduces pressure behind the cork.
YOU’RE NOT LETTING IT WARM UP
“The biggest mistake most people make with champagne is serving it too cold,” Wilson says. “While it’s best with while it’s best with a slight chill, burying a bottle in an ice cooler on the back porch in the dead of winter or even pulling it straight out of your fridge is not the way to go. You definitely want to keep it cool, but I’d recommend removing it from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, and assuming you’re sharing with friends, you probably don’t need to keep chilling it back down.”
The biggest mistake most people make with bubbles is serving it too cold.
Johnnes recommends serving younger champagnes around 6° Celsius and older champagnes up to 12° Celsius.
IT’S NOT JUST FOR CELEBRATIONS
Far be it for T&C to tell you not to celebrate with champagne (you should!), but recognize that the wine is versatile enough to pair with food. “It’s a real wine,” says Johnnes. “It’s not to band against the side of a ship. It’s a wine to savor and enjoy and pair with meals.”
YOU’RE ONLY SERVING IT BEFORE DINNER
The acid in champagne helps stimulate the appetite and it’s very refreshing and, dare I say, a lot of fun as an apératif,” says Alexander LaPratt, owner of New York’s Atrium Dumbo and Beasts & Bottles and a master sommelier. “But to only drink it before a meal would be criminal! It is incredibly food-friendly due to its effervescence, lower alcohol, and higher acidity.
It’s a natural pair for citrus salads and shellfish such as oysters, lobster, and crab, which have natural sweetness, and soups. It even works well with fish, poultry, and even steak.” And since it comes in off-dry styles, pairing it with cheese and sweet desserts is also an option, proving that champagne is truly, as Wilson says, “the most versatile wine out there with regard to food pairing.” (He recommends trying it at home on a casual night with fried chicken, tacos, or popcorn.)
Long may the bubbles flow.