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All about champagne

champagne
Champagne is for special moments: parties, celebrations of love, success and big achievements in life. We often crack open the bubbly with dessert, but is this really the best way of savouring champagne? Connoisseurs say champers is best drunk at the apéritif stage.
Try out our champagne recipes.
What is champagne?
Champagne is an effervescent wine produced from 3 grape varieties of wine: chardonnay (a white white-skinned grape), pinot noir and pinot meunier (white grapes with black skin). It carries the AOC label in France, meaning Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée (controlled term of origin), which means it can only be produced in a certain area according to specific rules. The Champagne region is located in North-Eastern France, and only champagne produced there can be labelled champagne. Grapes for champagne have to be hand-picked so that only the finest, clean, healthy grapes are used.
How do you choose champagne?
Brut
Brut champagne contains reduced sugar, and is quite a lively champagne. It's ideal for apéritif, but can also be drunk throughout a meal.
Extra-brut
Extra-brut champagne contains hardly any sugar, and is a lively champagne which is particularly well suited to apéritif.Demi-sec
Demi-sec champagne contains much more sugar and is drunk with dessert.
Rosé
Rosé champagne is obtained by one of two different methods: by maceration of the skin of black grapes in the wine or by adding red wine to ordinary champagne. As a result, it tastes much more like wine than many champagnes.
Non vintage
Champagnes without a vintage are made by mixing champagne from different years. The champagne house's image on the bottle should remain the same year after year as a reference. Each house's winemakers work in this way, assembling wines from different years and different vineyards until they get the result they want.
Vintage
This champagne is produced using grapes of the same vintage and is only made when the yield is particularly good.
Le blanc de blancs
'White of whites' champagne is made only using white grapes with white skin of the Chardonnay variety. It is fine and delicate, and very well-suited to apéritif.
Le blanc de noirs
This champagne is made only using white grapes with black skin of the pinot noir and pinot meunier varieties. It is suitable for drinking with a meal.
Prestige cuvées
Each house creates its own types of champagne, such as prestige cuvée or cuvée tradition, produced in a vintage year when the yield is particularly good.RD
RD means récemment dégorgé (recently disgorged). This means that the deposit in the bottle has been removed. During this process, a little liquid is removed and replaced with a little champagne and a quantity of sugar before the bottle is corked. RD champagne is degorged just before it is put on sale so that the yeasts remain for longer, giving a more complex taste.

When to serve champagne?
- Extra-brut and blanc de blancs should be served with apéritif.
- Brut and blanc de noirs go well with apéritif, starters and even mains.
- Demi-sec goes with dessert.
Conservation
Ideally, keep your champagne in a cellar at a constant temperature of about 12°C, away from excess damp. Keep the bottles upside down, so that the cork is always in contact with the liquid.
Chilling champagne
Champagne should be served chilled, not iced. The ideal temperature is between 8-9°C. If your bubbly is too cold, it won't taste of anything!
- 15 minutes before serving, fill a champagne bucket (or any bucket) with very cold water and ice cubes. Let the champagne chill in the bucket for about 15 minutes before serving.
- In the fridge: if you haven't a bucket and ice cubes, put your bottle in the fridge for 20-25 minutes. But don't leave champagne in the fridge for too long because it ruins the taste.
- Never freeze champagne!
Service
Champagne should be served in high glasses with cone-shaped bases. Flutes (tall, narrow stem glasses) that widen at the bottom are better than coupes that widen out at the top because they retain the aromas and fizz better, rather than letting them escape.

Good and bad combinations

Champagne likes fine, delicate foods. Don't serve it with very strong foods which will overpower it. If you want to enjoy your bubbly, you need to know what to serve it with. Here's a quick guide:
The best combinationsSesame breadsticks,plain savoury biscuits, plain dried fruit, parmesan cheese, salmon-based food,fish eggs and small amounts of spice.
Clashes to avoid
Lots of strong spices, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, vinegary condiments, olives and olive-based foods, and chocolate.
Brut champagne should not be served with dessert because the freshness and residual acidity don't bring out the best of the richness in sweets. It's a shame to end a meal on a sour note, so switch to a demi-sec champagne or a dessert wine.
Using champagne in cooking
If you have leftover bubbly, or if your bubbly just isn't up to scratch, make use of it! Try making apéritif drinks like kir royal, which is a mix of champagne and fruit cream, or try mixing champagne with Cointreau and lemon juice for a tangy champagne cocktail. You can use champagne in sauces and marinades for your starters or mains, and you can also cook rice and pasta in champagne (try putting it in risotto, for example). Use demi-sec champagne in sorbet, mousse or granité ice, drizzled over fruit salads to give them a refined party touch, or to flavour zabaione (Italian alcoholic egg dessert).
Try out our champagne recipes!
3 frequently asked questions...
Why isn't my bubbly bubbling?
It could be because your glass is too well washed! When you wipe your glasses you leave microscopic pieces of cellulose on them which form a film that traps the carbonic gas in champagne when you pour it in and stop it from fizzing. Leave your glasses to drip dry.

Can you age champagne?

When champagne is ready for sale, it's ready to be drunk. All the same, you can keep bottles of champagne for a few years, especially big bottles like magnums. Over time, champagne ages and changes, becoming more complex. You shouldn't leave it too long, though!
How many flutes of champagne can you get out of one bottle?
A bottle of champagne should fill 6 - 7 flutes. If you need more, a magnum contains around 2 standard bottles of champagne. Magnums are the best bottles for storing champagne in as well.
Published by Sarah Horrocks
20 Feb 2008
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