Champagne for Fools: An All-Purpose Guide to Serving and Pouring Bubbly

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How to forget the flute and serve Champagne like a pro. (Images courtesy Damon Casarez)

Pour it up, people: Champagne should be an all-the-time drink. But it’s especially appropriate this time of year, as everyone bops from holiday party to holiday party. Time to get some expert advice on the sparkly stuff, and Matthew Kaner, wine director and co-owner of Los Angeles’ Covell, has all the right answers. He debunked a few myths and threw out surprising insights, from the correct glassware (hint: it’s not a flute) to why popping a cork should be like passing gas.

What is the best method of opening a bottle of Champers?
I was once told early on in my wine career that whenever you open a bottle of Champagne it should sound like a beautiful woman farting. That means, you should hear little to nothing.

What about pouring?
Pour champagne with the label facing whoever you’re pouring for—their waiting lips will start to salivate. Pour quickly at the start so the foam forms to the top of the flute, then wait a few seconds for it to dissipate. Keep building that suspense. Finally, gently pour to fill the glass.

And your favorite glassware?
I prefer drinking Champagne out of a Burgundy glass—like you would drink still Chardonnay or Pinot Noir out of. Don’t forget, Champagne is wine, too! We’re all used to being served Champagne in a flute, but that doesn’t allow for the surface area, which lets the wine open up and come into its own. You also lose the aromatics of Champagne when it’s served out of a flute.

Is there a right temperature for serving it? Ice cold? Or just below room temperature?
I was just having this conversation with a fellow sommelier who likes to keep an open bottle on ice. Personally, I like to drink Champagne ice cold at the beginning, and prefer to leave it out of the ice bucket, on the table, to allow the wine to come back up to room temperature. In that manner, the bubbles dissipate and the wine opens up, gaining much more aromatic character. The last few sips are almost always divine. But, like with so many things, It’s really all about individual preferences.

Kaner suggests drinking Champagne out of a Burgundy glass for better aromatics.

How much Champagne is enough for a party of 4? Party of 8? Party of 12? Party of 20?
Champagne is something no one turns down. With a steady hand, you can pour four to five glasses per bottle. If there’s a program for the evening, starting or finishing with a single bottle of Champagne for a party of four makes complete sense. It doesn’t hurt to have a second bottle, though!

A handy guide:

  • Party of 4 = 1–2 bottles
  • Party of 8 = 2–3 bottles
  • Party of 12 = 3–5 bottles
  • Party of 20 = at least a 12-bottle case, why not?

What’s the proper word? Champers? Bubbly? Supernova? Cougar-Juice? ________?
Depends on how recently you were on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook before opening the bottle.

Any key words on a label that might tip us off to the style or quality of the Champagne?
Aside from certain words, which define sugar content, the rest of the information you’ll find on a Champagne label will include the Champagne house, a proprietary name and vintage info. Quality isn’t referenced on the label as it is in other regions in France.

Here’s a guide to sugar levels in Champagne (from dry to sweet):

  • Brut Nature = 0–3 grams of residual sugar per liter
  • Extra Brut = less than 6 grams
  • Brut = less than 12 grams
  • Extra Sec (Dry) = between 12 and 17 grams
  • Sec = between 17 and 32 grams
  • Demi-sec = between 32 and 50 grams
  • Doux = 50+ grams

If guests are arriving and the Champagne isn’t cold enough—god forbid—what do you do?
Find an ice bucket, bowl or vase. Fill it with ice, then put water in it. Put the bottle inside the vessel, and spin that fucker non-stop for about five minutes. This will chill it down faster than just putting it in the freezer. Game on.

Is it worth trying to make Champagne cocktails just to change things up?
Use Prosecco or Cava to make the cocktail. Drink Champagne on its own, please.

Give us a favorite toast.
In honor of my good friend Eduardo Porto Carreiro (Beverage Director at DBGB in Manhattan), “Drink hearty, here’s how.”

Now that you know how to treat Champagne with respect, the next step is finding the perfect bottle.

Since its foundation in 1811, the prestigious Perrier-Jouët house has crafted elegant, floral wines with a Chardonnay hallmark. Echoing that elegance is the delicate spray of anemones that has adorned the cuvées of Perrier-Jouët Champagnes since 1902. The house has remained loyal to its artistic heritage from the beginning, and now offers the ultimate bottle for holiday gifting: the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2006 Custom Engraved Bottle.

A true gift of beauty, this expression boasts a delicate nose and aromas of white fruits, followed by marzipan, rhubarb and a hint of sweet spice. With a rounded palate and soft, silky bubbles, the Champagne builds to a long, fine finish. Give the custom engraved bottle as a gift and celebrate the season with a Champagne that speaks volumes both inside and out.

Jonathan Cristaldi was dubbed a “Wine Prophet” by Time Out New York for his unconventional creativity as host, entertainer and educator of winos while running The Noble Rot. In 2011, Cristaldi slaved away in a cellar in Napa. Today, he is legit WSET Advanced Certified, writing about wine and spirits.

Locations: Los Angeles
Series & Type: Entertaining People
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