How to choose the best Champagne and other fizz this Christmas

If you’re anything like the Wine Wankers – you choose to step up your game at Christmas time.  In fact, my pet hate are relatives who skimp on wine.  And when it comes to bubbles, that means the good stuff.  Ah yes, the good stuff, what does that actually mean?  Sparkling wine falls into three distinct categories on Christmas day as far as I’m concerned.  For the toast, you’ll need the really good stuff.  And by that, I mean French Champagne.  My preferred staples from years of tasting are Charles Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot or Lanson. And if you really want to impress, Perrier-Jouët, Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger.

Drink French all day if you can afford it, but if you’re like most, you’ll be looking for a quality Australian or New Zealand sparkling wine to supplement.  Look no further than Chandon or Jansz, which are often on special.  But what happens when your 20 nearest and dearest friends drop by in the afternoon?  Don’t panic; simply serve them a great budget sparkling wine such as Jacobs Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir or Hardys Nottage Hill Pinot Chardonnay Cuvee Brut.

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Don’t skimp on Champagne at Christmas

You’ll also notice I don’t call everything Champagne.  That’s because only wines that herald from a small region north east of Paris in France can claim that title.  Everything else is called sparkling wine, unless of course you prefer to call it fizz, bubbles or even shampoo!  For the advanced Wine Wankers, the following might be stating the obvious.  But in the interest of educating all our followers, this information will help you choose perfectly next time you’re at your local bottleshop. Quality Australia sparkling wine is modelled after real Champagne; so look out for the term ‘Methode Traditionelle’ written on the label. The bottle should also tell you it’s made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and the grapes were grown in a cool region.  This cool climate gives the wine a more ‘refined’ flavour.  Pinot Meunier is also occasionally used. Pinot Noir dominant wines (Blanc de Noir) are fuller in flavour, with characters of berry fruits; these are perfect when paired with food.  Chardonnay dominant wines (Blanc de Blanc) are fresh and bright with citrus elements; great on their own as an aperitif.  A blend of the two means you get the best of both worlds; simple!

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Champagne should be on tap on Christmas Day!

‘Methode Traditionelle’ or ‘fermented in this bottle’ also means the wine has been matured on its dead yeast cells (called yeast lees). This winemaking process imparts a lovely toasty/creamy character to the wine. Don’t worry however, the winemaker removes the dead yeast cells just before they sell the wine.  Look for the term, ‘matured on yeast lees for xx months’.  Noticeable biscuit characters will be more pronounced after 18 month’s maturation. Plus, the bubbles will be tinier and longer lasting! Finally, vintage wines are said to be better than non vintage (NV) wines.  That’s because vintage wines are only produced in the very best years. NV wines are a blend of several ‘average to good’ years and are blended to produce a balanced ‘house’ style.

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Start early, it’s Christmas!

With the buying out of the way; it’s now time to serve your precious cargo.  It’s Christmas day, so step up to the plate and do it properly, for your mum’s sake! Chill non-vintage wines to 5°C.  A slightly warmer temperature (around 8°C) for vintage wines will heighten the complex aromas and flavours. The secret to opening a bottle of sparkling wine is to actually try and stop the cork from coming out! Aim for a gentle sigh. Also, try to leave the foil that sits around the neck of the wine bottle intact.  When you’re drinking expensive fizz, that’s what you’ll see sticking out from the top of the ice bucket (promotion is everything)! Serve sparkling wine in long stemmed, ‘tulip’ shaped flutes.  The flute’s shape allows the bubbles to form properly while also helping preserve them for longer.  Also remember to hold the glass by the stem otherwise the heat from your fingers will warm up the wine. ‘Charge’ everybody’s glass by first pouring a small amount of wine into each glass.  Now wait for this to settle before filling everybody’s glass to about two-thirds to three-quarters full.

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Champagne is best served, by someone else!
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39 comments

  1. Great advice for the oft-misunderstood Champagne/sparkling wine. Opening a bottle of sparkling became one of my favorite things to do – once I learned how to do it properly! Cheers!

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  2. I think most Aussie sparkling wines are made by transfer method which is not neceserally a bad thing (good wines, more affordable). But there’s obviously very good Methode Traditionelle as well. Some very decent bubbles coming out of New Zealand too. The ‘cool climate’ effect, good for Chard and Pinot. Cheers all & Merry Christmas 🙂

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  3. I will be indulging in some sparkling shiraz from Seppelts and some biodynamic bubbles, Blanc de Blanc from Krinklewood Biodynamic vineyard. Cheers!

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  4. Good stuff. For local affordable sparkling I just cannot go past House of Arras. Their Brut Elite for around $35 is an absolute gem and I have a bottle of their 2004 Blanc de Blanc ready for just the appreciative sippers (after trying it an an industry tasting thing).
    When I work in wine retail this time of year I find myself asking people if they want Champagne champagne or sparkling so frequently. Most people still use the words interchangeably.

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  5. Curious to know how you think the lesser known Champagne brands like Aubert and Louis Auger compare to the better local sparklings like Chandon & Janz, they’re often in the same price bracket, $25-35, at Dan’s.

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    • Hey Ian – Ive never tasted these Champagnes – are they exclusive to Dan Murphys or Liquorland or something like that? They get good value obscure Champs in all the time. Im all for experimenting with these lesser known wines. Dan Murphys imports the best range that Ive seen and tasted!

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  6. I don’t like Champagne…tried it all. Stood there with a glass in my hand pretending…when I was younger and insecure. Now I tell them..sorry, I am a red wine Lady :-). Loved the post. thank you and cheers to a Merry Christmas 🙂

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  7. Ahhhh tiny bubbles… in the wine… etc. etc. Not sure if I can find any of those lovely bubblies in Mexico. But who knows am off to some wineries just north of Ensanada. Merry Xmas.

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  8. I should have read this before I went shopping today. However I did get a bottle of Veuve Clicquot (my favourite) and a few cheaper bottles of one you don’t mention Oyster Bay sparkling sav blanc. I haven’t tried it before but like the non-sparkling so hope it’s okay. I do realise your article is about champagne and the Australian wines in the same tradition though. I’ll have to check out this post before future purchases. Thanks for the information. Have a merry Christmas! :0

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  9. This blog will be way out of my league as I have no skill at choosing wine, sparkling or otherwise. I’ll enjoy reading though. I like to learn.

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  10. Wonderful article. I guess I am a bit of a snob, so I will have to try some of the sparkling wines this year. I only love two champagnes Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger, these I will drink without turning my drink into a Kir Royale.

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  11. I love sparkling wines and champagnes….for cooking!
    Reducing 1/2 bottle with butter, garlic and chilies before tossing with pasta greatly improves the flavor of the sparkling wine or champagne!
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

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  12. Good article, Drew. It would be great if you would also introduce your readers to “grower champagne” – the 3,500 small producers who make their champagne as a labor of love. Definitely worth searching for, as it can offer a wider range of tastes, partly due to the various “terroirs” of the Champagne region. Maybe for next year?

    If you’re interested in more detailed info on Champagne from an American living there, please visit my blog about my French wine and food adventures.

    I love Aussie and NZ wines, too, but they’re pretty hard to find in France, outside of Paris.

    Keep up the good work!

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