“The thing I love about champagne is the experience – it’s the whole reason you’re having it,” says Bobby Henry, beverage manager at Richmond’s Prince Alfred Hotel. “Usually when you’re having champagne it’s … with a group of people. That’s a cause for celebration.”
For most of us, like Henry, breaking out the good bubbly is truly an occasion. With big moments on the line, it’s worth knowing if we’re serving, storing and appreciating a champagne at its absolute best. To help, Henry set Broadsheet straight on some common champagne myths.
A spoon keeps champagne from losing its bubbles
“The myth is that if you put a teaspoon in a champagne bottle it’ll make the champagne last longer,” Henry says.
The technique (so the myth suggests) is to place a spoon, handle first, into an open bottle of champagne, thereby preserving the carbonation. The problem? It just doesn’t work. “As soon as you open a bottle of champagne, carbon dioxide is released from the suspension that it’s in, and unless you close the bottle, that carbon dioxide will continue to escape,” Henry says.
A spoon won’t hold those bubbles in, so grab yourself a piece of purpose-built gear. “The best thing to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping and maintain the quality of the champagne is a stopper,” Henry says. “Just one of those stoppers that has elastic around a spring inside of it that then clamps on top of the champagne bottle.”
Flutes are the best glasses for champagne
Those ubiquitous symbols of celebration, champagne flutes, are the most popular way to serve sparkling wine of all kinds. Flutes are markedly better than their stylish predecessor, the coupe (which renders sparkling wine almost instantly flat), but their narrow shape means you’ll miss out on delicate aromas.
To take your tasting to another level, take some advice from Piper-Heidsieck’s chef-de-cave, Emilien Boutillat. “I would recommend drinking champagne from a tulip-shaped glass that’s wide enough to allow the bubbles to develop and the aromas to be revealed,” Boutillat says. “That could be a white wine glass, for example. The wider bowl and narrower opening will let all the aromas express and then concentrate so that the champagne tasting is enhanced.”
Champagne is only for special occasions
You shouldn’t just save your fancy sparkling for just Christmas and engagement parties. “The reality is champagne’s a fantastic drink to drink any time,” says Henry. “It’s really easily paired with food.” As well as a natural pairing with seafood, Henry says it “pairs perfectly with steaks and fried chicken, that sort of thing.”
In Australia, drinking anything but a big red wine with steak will raise eyebrows, but Henry says champagnes also pair really well with red meat. “Part of the process of creating champagne creates this sort of bready, nutty flavour,” he says. “That flavour goes really well with steak.”
Vintage champagne is superior to non-vintage
You’re shopping for champagne and see that one bottle has a vintage year on the label, and another that doesn’t. What gives?
Non-vintage champagne comes from a blend of different grapes harvested from different years. This raises the challenge of creating consistent taste year to year. Meanwhile a vintage champagne is made from grapes harvested in a single year and is designed to express the specificities of that year.
“A vintage champagne is a champagne bottled at a specific time in the year that it’s vintaged,” says Henry. “You can basically pick up that [vintage] bottle from year to year and it will [always] taste, in inverted commas, very similar.”
Your standard brut might cost less than its vintage counterpart, but does that mean it’s better to grab the vintage? Well, not necessarily. “It all just depends on the style you’re after,” says Henry. “Most Australians that I speak to typically like the non-vintage champagnes. They’re young, they’re dry, they’re crisp, they’re super easy to drink.”
Vintage styles, on the other hand, spend longer in their maturation process and tend to be richer and more complex. Choosing a champagne ultimately comes down to what you like to drink most, not the price tag.
This story was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Piper-Heidsieck.