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Champagne, by any other name…

Feb 22, 2011 09:35PM ● By Anonymous

This Valentine’s Day, many a couple will celebrate with the bubbly beverage, but here are a couple of questions for you: What gives sparkling wine the right to be called Champagne, and why does it go hand-in-hand with romance?


The Back Story of Bubbly

“Champagne” is a ubiquitous term for any sparkling wine, but it’s most often used incorrectly. Don’t even try to call a wine “Champagne” in the European Union unless it comes from the French Champagne wine region, which is about 100 miles east of Paris. There’s an international treaty dedicated to protecting the designation.

However, the United States isn’t as protective of the region as Europe and allows sparkling wine to be labeled as champagne—as long as it clearly indicates where the wine was actually produced. Because of this, you might see, for example, Korbel labeled as “California champagne.” However, some states such as Oregon don’t allow the term because it can confuse consumers.

Feeling Bubbly and in Love

Are you feeling lightheaded from being in love or simply from the bubbles of alcohol? Champagne can quickly make you feel lightheaded, according to a study at the University of Surrey. Scientists aren’t quite sure what the reason is, but the theory is that the bubbles move the alcohol into the bloodstream faster and raises your blood alcohol content more quickly than other types of beverages.

Additionally, Champagne has an aura of being expensive and celebratory—it can quite often feel like an indulgence, even if the price label on the bottle doesn’t indicate the same. So while that guy or gal you’re with might be fabulous, don’t let the Champagne’s intoxicating fizz fool you—it might just be the bubbles talking.

Buying Bubbly

Prices on sparkling wine and Champagne run the gamut, and it can be hard for a novice to figure out which type will be best for them. The first step is deciphering the meanings of description of the champagne: Brut, extra-dry, and demi-sec. These designations differ in how much sugar is added to the wine, says Victor Ykoruk of the Wine Appreciation Guild, with brut being the driest. (The actual categories range from Brut Nature, which has no extra sugar, to Dulce, the sweetest type. However, these are not as common in the U.S.) If you like drinking dry white wine, Ykoruk says, then extra-brut or brut is the choice for you.

But how much should you spend on it?

“That’s the $10,000 question,” Ykoruk says, “and better answered if you have $10,000 to spend on champagne.”

Much like Scotch whisky, champagne’s prices vary depending on how old the bottle is, as well as what types of grapes were used to make the wine. Vintage champagnes are made from the best grapes the wine house has, and only made in the years the grapes are deemed worthy. Brands such as Dom Perignon are always vintage.

“The price you pay is in celebration of the care and concern it took the winemaker to produce,” Ykoruk says, though he does say that the wines that have been aged longer are often worth the price.

For Valentine’s Day, he recommends American-produced sparkling wine, such as Roederer from Calfornia, to get the best bang for your buck. If you would rather spend more on the bubbly, try out Dom Perignon by Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, and Veuve Clicquot.

“Dom Perignons by Moet & Chandon are very sexy in their mass appeal,” Ykoruk says. “They have only been in production for 30-plus vintages, so saying that you have tried one is pretty cool.”

Another recommended brand is Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV, preferred by The Wine Coach Laurie Forster. Legend says that in 1978, Fueillate began creating sparkling wine for friends such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Forster says. This means that the wine is relatively new in the Champagne world; however, it has consistently been rated well by critics.

Serving and Enjoying

While it might seem inconvenient to purchase special glasses just for champagne, the fluted design makes all the difference in enjoying the sparkling wine. The thin bowl of the glass reduces the surface area at the opening, which helps retain the bubbles. As with wine glasses, the long, thin stem of the champagne flute allows the drinker to hold the glass without changing the temperature of the wine, which should be served chilled to approximately 43 to 48 degrees F. When pouring the champagne, slide it slowly down the side of the glass. This method was scientifically proven to preserve twice as much of the carbon dioxide because of the gentle angled method.

If you prefer to mix your champagne into a cocktail, try a Flirtini: Mix one ounce each of pineapple juice and vodka in a champagne glass, and then top it off with champagne.