How to Open a Bottle of Champagne

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and I daresay that at least some of you will be celebrating with a bottle of bubbles. Remember – it’s only Champagne if it’s been made in the Champagne region of France (and a whole pile of other rules on top of that!) – otherwise it’s “sparkling wine”.

A couple of years ago I made this short video showing the right way to open that special bottle – so you don’t spray yourself or your beloved with the wine, and don’t break anything with a rogue cork. It’s all just as true now as it was then!

If you’re looking for drinking inspiration a couple of my faves that won’t break the bank are the Midnight Cuvée from Blue Pyrenees (retails around $25), Stefano Lubiana’s NV sparkling from Tasmania (retails around $40). If you are looking to buy Champagne, think outside the box and seek out a grower Champagne. These are Champagnes made by the same estate that grows the wines so by extension they tend to be smaller, less well known names. One which is reasonably widely available is Larmandier-Bernier – the wines retail around the $80-90 mark.

Enjoy the video!

Champagne Masterclass

photo by Tiny Tall

date:  31 August 2011

A couple of weeks ago the Champagne Bureau hosted its annual Adelaide masterclass.  Every year, the Bureau runs a series of classes throughout Australia to promote Champagne.  Now, you probably think that Champagne doesn’t really need any promoting but then again, how many times have you heard someone refer to their glass of Champagne when it turns out to be anything from a bargain basement wine to a premium Australian sparkling?

This is actually one of my (many) pet hates.  It sets my teeth on edge.  For a start, if it’s a premium Australian sparkling, we don’t need to gussy it up and call it “Champagne” – it’s good enough to stand on its own, for exactly what it is.  And if it’s a cheapie (and the cheapest I could find on a well known national retailer’s website was around $4 a bottle) then it’s nothing short of devaluing the Champagne brand.

Champagne is sparkling wine that comes from a very particular area of France.  And it’s not just a very particular area – it’s a very particular set of vineyards in that area.  And the wine has to be made in a very particular way.  I’m not going to go into the details – for many people that would be boring, verging on tedious.  Just trust me – if it doesn’t say Champagne on the bottle, it’s not Champagne.

Rant over.

The masterclass was held at Apothecary 1878 on Hindley Street and the speakers for the session were James Smith, Jane Bromley and Dr Patrick Iland, all previous winners of the Vin de Champagne Award.  The ten wines tasted were broken into four brackets:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosés and Rare.

As always, it was really interesting to line up ten different wines and have the opportunity to compare them. Given the expense associated with Champagne, this is a very thing (for me, at least). At my end of the table, the first wine of the Pinot bracket caused plenty of discussion. It was the André Beaufort Grand Cru Ambonnay Brut 2004. It was a very savoury, spicy wine with a lot going on that perhaps you might not typically associate with Champagne. There was debate about whether or not the wine was faulty and whether or not it was best looked at as a wine first, Champagne second or vice versa. I actually really enjoyed the spiciness but certainly recognise that this is atypical and may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Rosé bracket was also a real eye opener. Rosé Champagnes tend to be more expensive than their white counterparts and I rarely drink them. The Louis Roederer 2006 and Veuve Clicquot 2004 wines were my favourites, with more complexity than the one non vintage rosé that we tried and some very pronounced strawberries and cream type flavours.

We wrapped up with the Mumm Cuvée René Lalou 1999. A subtle wine but with a ton of complexity – which you’d hope for as it had spent 10 years on lees. Of course, if you can find this wine in Australia you can expect to pay in excess of $300 for the privilege …

The sole downer of the night was that the manpower required to pour 10 Champagnes for 30-40 people had been grossly underestimated. The wines were very slow in coming out which really hampered the flow of presentation and discussion. This meant the event ran over time which caused a few participants logistical issues (the lady next to me had to rush off because the car park was closing!).

Wines tasted (in order):
Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV
Pascal Doquet Grand Cru le Mesnil sur Oger Blanc de Blancs NV
André Beaufort Grand Cru Ambonnay Brut 2004
Veuve A Devaux Cuvée D NV
Veuve A Devaux Blanc de Noirs NV
Louis Roederer Rosé 2006
Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé NV
Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004
Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2000
GH Mumm Cuvée R Lalou 1999

How to open Champagne

This is a bit of a cheat’s post, as the video below I made a year ago and first posted on my old site, Eating Leeds.  However, I think it’s appropriate that, as we head in to Christmas and New Year, we have a bit of a reminder about how to open the bubbles on Christmas morning or New Year’s Eve!

If you can’t see yourself parting with the money to buy the real deal there are plenty of good home grown alternatives that cost a lot less.  My personal favourite at the moment is Blue Pyrenees Midnight Cuvee.  This retails for around the $25-30 mark and I’m sure there’ll be more than one bottle opened at Eating Adelaide HQ during the festive season.

A summary of the key points is below the video, in case you don’t have sound!

The key points are:

  • have the wine well chilled, as this reduces the pressure and the likelihood you’ll shower yourself or your guests in bubbly!
  • once you’ve removed the wire cage keep your hand over the cork at all times … there’s no guarantee it won’t fly off by itself
  • open the wine by holding the bottle at the base and keeping a firm grip on the cork.  Turn the bottle NOT the cork.
  • just in case, ensure you are not pointing the bottle at anyone or anything breakable – accidents happen and you don’t want to take out someone’s eye
  • when the cork does come out you want a gentle ‘phut’ sound not an explosion.  The best analogy I’ve heard is that it should sound like the sigh of a contented woman …
  • finally, pour your fizz into a flute (tall and thin glass) rather than a saucer (your bubbles will last longer) and keep the glass upright – you are NOT pouring a beer!  You’ll need to pour slowly (and maybe return to top up glasses) but it will keep with the sense of occasion.