10 things you must know about champagne

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All about champagne HowDoYouSayThatWord.com

What do you know about champagne, other than its bubbly, expensive and signals glamour and good times, and possibly, for those who do not know their limits, bad behaviour and a hangover…? Doesn’t everyone know what champagne is? The short answer is ‘no’, and the long answer is ‘noo’. I have heard otherwise perfectly well-educated people say the stupidest things about champagne. It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people suspect you are unsophisticated, than to open it and most assuredly convince them that you are. Why keep them guessing or let them know for sure when you can easily learn how to sound like an expert on champagne? Read, click on the links to listen to the audio and learn more…

1.

It’s not champagne unless it comes from Champagne, so don’t call sparkling wine from California or Australia (however wonderful it is) ‘champagne’. Until a couple of years, some American wine-makes made use of a nifty loop-hole in international legislation and shamelessly called their sparkling wine ‘champagne’, thereby infuriating the French. That is now mostly closed – the argument is too lengthy to detail here, but no decent and respectful wine-maker outside the Appellation of Champagne would call their product, however refined, ‘champagne’. Interestingly enough, champagne is the only wine that does not need to mention AOC status on the label – the mere fact that it is called champagne is enough to confirm it.

Some trivia: What do you call sparkling wine made outside of the Appellation of Champagne in France? It’s generally called ‘crémant‘, though some of the coarser ones may be referred to as ‘mousseaux‘. (A big thank-you to Jancis Robinson who helped me out here via Twitter – check out her website for all things wine. It is superb).

2.

It is extremely crass to pop the cork and spray champagne over your companions unless you have just won the Grand Prix or a similarly prestigious sporting event. Don’t allow the cork to pop loudly – remove the foil and the wire, gently twist the bottle (not the cork) allowing it to release with a muted thud that says ‘I am a person of the world’, not a loud explosion that says ‘I have learned all I know about champagne from the scene in Dumb, Dumber where they kill an endangered species with an exploding cork.’

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3.

Anyone who knows a frog’s toe about champagne knows that the good monk Dom Pérignon did not invent or discover champagne, and is terribly unlikely to have uttered the words ‘come quickly, I am drinking the stars’. It’s a charming story, but don’t repeat unless you are dismissing it. Back in those days, the spontaneous ‘second fermentation’ which creates the bubbles often resulted in exploding bottles. This a problem which ‘the Dom’ was more interested in avoiding than encouraging.

So who discovered champagne? There are quite a few who advocate for the English, believe it or not!!! Candidates include cider-makers and a couple of English scientists. Methinks the answer is ‘no-one, really’. It’s more a question of ‘who learned to control the second fermentation?’ It’s clear that bubbles were spontaneously and unintentionally appearing in bottles of wine due to weather and other factors. Unlike Dom Pérignon, not everyone thought this was a bad thing, and interested wine-makers then started looking at ways to control the process and make the bottles strong enough to cope with the 5-6 atmospheres created by the CO2 without exploding.

4.

What is wrong with this picture?

Oh dear…..

 

Or rather, what isn’t? Champagne and sparkling wine should be served in a flute, not a bowl on a stem (unless you are an eccentric Ruinart connoisseur with a fetish for the good old days). It’s not pure snobbery – the large surface area makes the bubbles dissipate more quickly. And anyone who tells you to tie ribbons on glasses shouldn’t be telling you anything at all. As for writing ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ on the glasses…the less said the better. Everything about this picture says ‘sweet cheap sparkling sort-of-wine’. Please don’t do this to proper champagne, sparkling wine, or even the cheap stuff if you are passing it off as the real thing. On a similar note ‘non’ to festive little umbrellas and any other adornments and…..HAH! Bet you thought I was going to say ice-cubes. Wrong, because it turns out…

5.

….some people think putting ice-cubes in your champagne is trendy. Piper-Heidsieck, an ultra-luxe champagne house has created the ‘Piscine‘ (‘piscine’ means ‘swimming pool’ in French). You go to a club where the muted lights, loud music, and your gratitude that the doorman let you in addles your wits. The slick barman offers you a Piscine, and you say ‘mais oui’, not having a clue what he means. He proceeds to pour loads of terribly expensive Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée-Brut over ice in an extra-large, specially designed glass. And from then on you remember nothing until you wake up. Fortunately Facebook is plastered with photos of you having a good time so your memory may be indelibly refreshed for all perpetuity…

This drink may be terribly fashionable in parts of  Paris and other international cities, but I’m not convinced. It hurts to think of what ice will do to the delicate aromas of fine champagne, but if you think this sounds like a smashing good time, you probably aren’t drinking it for the ‘delicate aromas’. Just remember – trendy and tasteful are not the same thing. And this runs contrary to the next thing you must know about champagne………

Piper-Hidsieck ‘Piscine’

 

 

 Piper Hedsieck

6.

Never, ever freeze champagne – as I was saying, it ruins the aromas and flavours. Use an ice-bucket which has a mixture of water and ice – you can cool a bottle of champagne (from the cellars) to the right temperature in 15-20 minutes like this. If there is *no more room in your cellar* give it about 40 minutes (between 8 celsius for younger champagnes and 10 for mature champagnes). If you are chilling bottles in the fridge (not the freezer, I implore you, but if it’s for the ‘Piscine’ then I hope you are using ‘Piper’, not the Pol Roger). Lay them down on the bottom shelf for at least 3 hours to chill, or keep them there until you need them (but not for weeks on end – they are best stored in the *cellar*).

7.

Take advice – sommeliers in the type of establishments who OUGHT to be serving champagne are not just ‘wine stewards’ – they are very highly trained professionals who really know their stuff, and are there to guide you. There is absolutely nothing wrong in asking for their suggestions.

If you find yourself competing for attention with someone who knows (or pretends to know) more than you do about champagne, it’s best to shut up and learn, or wait for them to trip up on something you know for sure, like the Dom Pérignon story.

8.

For heaven’s sake, learn how to correctly pronounce the names of the various champagne brands…now that there is a handy reference at Howdoyousaythatword.com, you have no excuse…..

9.

Older may be better when it comes to wine, but not champagne. There is a quaint story which is always told by someone ‘who knows the family’ and as such should be taken with a generous handful of salt, but it illustrates the point very well, so it bears repeating. It goes like this: The matriarch of the Taittinger family is celebrating her 80th birthday, and to mark the occasion the family decide it would be nice to open an 80-year-old bottle of their own. After the bottle is opened and tasted, Monsieur diplomatically proclaims ‘I am happy to say that Madame has aged far better than our champagne…’

In her prime…

 

                                                                                      Taittinger

10.

Don’t be too much of a snob to prefer a really good sparkling wine to champagne. There are excellent sparkling wines from South Africa, Australia, the States, and other countries which can equal the best champagnes, and better the mediocre ones. Spanish Cava (and Cava can only be from Spain) is absolutely wonderful. A true wine-love should never be hung up on names and labels.

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About the Author

Marie-Ora is obsessed with pronunciation, languages, food, wine, cooking, 4Foots. and chocolate. When she isn't working, she enjoys snacking, sipping on wine, reading and napping, and is currently researching methods to do all 4 simultaneously. Although Marie-Ora has absolutely no vices, she is easily provoked by mis-pronunciations, bad coffee, and unwarranted hype.

33 Comments

  1. Tixy  September 30, 2011

    Light-hearted but you are very accurate in your information. I was surprised for the Ruinart comment – not many know about this.

    (reply)
    • Tixy  September 30, 2011

      Are you French?

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      • Marie-Ora  September 30, 2011

        Thank-you for your kind words, Tixy. I’m not French, but I have some French in me (Huguenot descent) :)

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  2. Jon  February 16, 2012

    I saw a documentary once which told a story of how someone accidentally left some doors open which stopped the fermentation, so there may be an historic record of how the process was discovered. The same documentary also told how the French shipped the fizzy stuff to England because they did not want it themselves, and we loved it!

    Guinness was also discovered in an accidental way. Someone burnt the malt and they gave the beer to the dockworkers as it could not be sold – and they all loved it and asked for more!

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    • Marie  February 16, 2012

      Jon, thank-you for this info – I have to try and hunt down that documentary (you don’t remember any details?). And I did not know about the Guinness – that is a really interesting story. I’m going to add it to my post on Guinness when I upload it (busy researching a section on beer – not my strong point), and definitely credit you. I love hearing from people who are as interested in the details as I am – hope to hear from you again!

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      • Jon  February 17, 2012

        It was a long time ago, a vague memory. No idea what the title would have been, or even the overall subject. Could have been about wine, France, trade – who knows! And the story about the doors being left open could be myth now. Wikipedia has some interesting information on the topic.

        (reply)
        • Marie  February 17, 2012

          I’ll see if I can track down anything. I’m doing research for an article and some entries on beer. If it’s a myth, I’ll bust it. Try as I may to stick to only pronunciation, I always find myself side-tracked by these interesting bits of trivia :)

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  3. Andreas  February 17, 2012

    Hey Marie-Ora
    I really enjoyed this post. I’m a big fan of prosecco, the venetian sparkling wine. I find Champagne waaay overrated (or is it overpriced?). Just as in the rest of the global wine industry, there’s a tremendous overproduction and the price is being kept up artificially.
    BTW, here’s another thing the french do to their favourite aperetif (purists please don’t read…) They put some drops of violet sirup in their flute. I liked it a lot, it sweetens the ‘brut’ character .
    Thanks for the great read,
    Andreas

    (reply)
    • Marie  February 17, 2012

      Hi Andreas – I agree with you – Champagne is often way overrated because people get so hung up on labels, and advertising – I don’t know if you read my article on Soda Stream Champagne, but clearly a lot of people really do not have a clue about the quality of a wine of champagne without a price tag to guide them – sort of ‘if it’s that expensive, it must be good’ attitude. And the prosecco is great, great stuff. I have never heard of violet syrup in champagne – it sounds delicious. Something I must try (love Kir too). Thank-you for that. Appreciate you taking the time to comment :)

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  4. Sally  May 4, 2012

    Hello Marie and everyone else.
    A very good ( and full of correct information ) book to read all about Champagne is the Biography of La Veuve .
    Happy Days to all.
    Sally

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  May 4, 2012

      Thank for the tip, Sally! I love getting recommendations about books, so I’ll definitely investigate! Hope to see you again.

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  5. Eftychia  July 3, 2012

    Very nice post! Thanks for the info…

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  6. Jerusha  August 2, 2012

    On point #6: It will also explode — if you forget about it like I did– and leave your freezer a mess of sparkly glass and slush-puppy like champagne. (I learned this the heard way)

    This was a great read! Thank you!

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  August 2, 2012

      Ouch! That is valuable advice, Jerusha. Sorry you had to learn the hard way!

      (reply)
  7. Conz  January 4, 2013

    It’s the Appellation d’origine contrôlée…and goes way beyond champagne

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  January 5, 2013

      Indeed it does -if you click on the AOC link in the article it will take you to a page which goes through all aspects of the Appellation d’Origine and Appellation d’Origin contrôlée laws and the products they apply to. It’s too detailed to include here :)

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  8. Christo  April 20, 2013

    Prosecco ,try Niño Franco ,Rustico

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  9. Marisa  April 26, 2013

    The ice cubes in the Piscine are not made of water, but frozen champagne. So, you don’t water down the champagne. For those of you who think champagne is overrated, try a demi-sec versus a brute, you may be very pleasantly surprised! I find Brute very bitter…but rose and demi-sec are delightful!

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  May 2, 2013

      Good point, Marisa. It’s not the water that offends me so much as the idea of icing up champagne, but if you have tried it and it works, do tell!!! I like your advice – Brut really is too dry for me – fine with a bit of Kir though :)

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  10. yuri  July 2, 2013

    i saw a bottle of Dom Perignon vintage 1983. Is it ok to buy it? how can i tell if it’s not a fake or bad preserved champagne? Thanks =)

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  July 2, 2013

      Hi Yuri
      I checked http://www.domperignon.com/image/vintages-archives/ and 1983 is definitely a vintage year (not every year is a vintage, so checking that can give you a pointer as to authenticity). If the label and wrapping around the cork is intact and has the Dom Pérignon label, and it costs around $200-300.00 it’s probably in order. Just remember, champagne does not get better with age. A 1983 vintage is likely to have lost its edge. Please report back if you do get it – I’d love to hear what it was like :)

      (reply)
      • yuri  July 9, 2013

        I got it. It was very very good, a little bit “sour” but tasted really nice.
        I have another question. i have a dinner party this thursday and have to get some champagne. I dont want something too strong (nothing extra brut) because there’s gonna be some people who are not used to those flavor. I’ve seen in the stores here Moet &Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. Which brand and type would you sugest me? Thank you very much, i like very much your posts by the way.

        (reply)
        • Marie-Ora  July 9, 2013

          Hi Yuri – thank-you so much for reporting back!!!! I appreciate it tremendously – good to hear you enjoyed it. For a dinner party, I’m a big fan of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. It’s not a vintage champagne (which means it dates to a certain year), but it is excellent and not too dry for most tastes. Stay away from anything labeled ‘Extra-Brut’ – I know it’s fashionable to like the very dry champagnes, but they are too sour for me too – maybe with a little grenadine syrup they would be OK, but on their own I don’t enjoy them at all.
          Do let me know what you chose and what you thought of it!

          (reply)
          • yuri  July 11, 2013

            thanks for the advice. I will look for it.
            What do you think about Moet &Chandon Imperial?

          • Marie-Ora  July 11, 2013

            I think it’s a superb champagne! I’d drink it any day!

          • yuri  July 13, 2013

            I got the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, thank you very much i loved it

          • Marie-Ora  July 13, 2013

            Delighted to hear that! And thank-you very much for the update :)

  11. leslie  December 7, 2013

    please i have a question about champagne corks, what is the shape of the cork after it is popped?

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    • Marie-Ora  December 8, 2013

      Hi Leslie
      It basically looks like a little mushroom with a cap and a stalk which flares out slightly at the base. Google images of ‘champagne corks’ and you will see exactly what I mean. If you have any other questions, fire away! Thank-you for stopping by.

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  12. jratcliff  February 14, 2014

    #4 was so deliciously evil…

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  13. Cheenu Lott  March 27, 2014

    Good tips about running a Champagne. This post can help a new one a lot. One can learn the basic tips and trick in a single go. Thanks for sharing this post.

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