December 17th 2011

Champagne 101

With holiday get togethers running amok, I bet you’ve had a little bubbly in the mix.

But even if you’re familiar with selecting wine, it doesn’t mean you’re familiar with the fizzy stuff.

Here are the basics on how to select your ideal champagne… with a few recipes added to the mix.Did you know that the actual name for champagne is overused? In general, it’s all a variety of sparkling wine, but sparkling wine that is made in the Champagne region of France is what “Champagne” really is. We use it as a blanket term, but are familiar with the others: Prosecco in Italy, Sekt in Germany, Cava in Spain, and so on. Many Canadian and American manufacturers simply refer to it as sparkling wine or sparklers.

So if you want to opt for the real thing, is it worth the extra cost? Champagne tends to be more expensive than other sparkling wines, so it is up to you if you think that the taste and flavor trumps other varieties.

So what exactly makes champagne so darn good – and so darn bubbly? Champagne is a combination of three different grapes: Pinor Noir, Chardonnay and, sometimes, Pinot Meunier, though the latter isn’t as common. To make the wine bubbly, they are created through a process that is called “secondary fermentation.” This means that the winemakers make their regular wine first, and then go through it again, re-ferment it, and leave the yeast in the bottle (though it is later filtered out to remove it). If champagne is labeled “NV” or “non-vintage”, it means that it is created from a various blend of wine vintage options.

To choose your champagne and sparkling wine of choice, you should be familiar with the terminology that goes along with it. That will help narrow it down based on your preferences and desired tastes, before being overwhelmed with all of the options.

Brut: Brut is the driest variety of sparkling wine or champagne, though it is not the same thing as “Extra Dry” (which, by the way, isn’t as dry as Brut). Out of all of the varieties, Brut does well wit the most food options, and pairs excellently with caviar.

Extra Dry: As noted, Extra Dry isn’t as dry as Brut, and has a touch of sweetness with a fruity overtone. It does, however, end on a bit of a dry note, hence its name. Like Brut, it is well-paired with many foods and goes well with before or after dinner.

Sec: Sec is middle ground for its level of dryness, but is relatively uncommon and generally not an option in most liquor stores or wineries.

Demi-Sec: Demi-Sec is perfect as a dessert wine, as it keeps in the most residual sugar of the ones listed so far. It is often described as “romantic”, and has a bit of a caramelized flavor. Don’t pair this wine with anything that is sweeter than it, otherwise its flavor will be harsh. Consider serving alongside fresh, seasonal fruit.

Blanc de Blanc: Blanc de Blanc is made from a hundred percent Chardonnay. This type of grape has a hint of nuttiness, combined with a toasted quality with an underlying richness.

Blanc de Noir: Made mostly from Pinor Noir, Blanc de Noir has a citrus flavor with a fresh fruit flavor underneath. It is very refreshing, and great on its own.

If you don’t feel like drinking it on its own, consider one of these cocktails, specifically designed to enhance your sparkling wine!

Cranberry Clementine Cocktail

1 tablespoon finely grated clementine zest
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cups freshly squeezed clementine juice
1 cup 100% cranberry juice
3/4 cup fresh cranberries
8 (1-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
Ice cubes
1 (750ml) bottle sparkling Brut wine, well chilled
1 1/2 cups tonic water
1 clementine (for garnish)

In a wide, shallow dish, mix together the clementine zest and sugar. Wet the rim of 8 cocktail glasses, and then press in the clementine sugar to coat. In a large pitcher, muddle the cranberry juice, cranberries and rosemary sprigs with a wooden spoon until well combined. Fill the pitcher with the ice cubes. Add the clementine juice, wine and tonic water. Mix well, then pour into the sugar-rimmed glasses. Garnish with clementine twists and serve.


3 ounces champagne , chilled
1 ounce triple sec
3 ounces 100% cranberry juice, chilled

Pour all ingredients into a fluted champagne glass. Stir and serve.

Holiday Sparkle Punch

1 (750 ml) bottle white wine, chilled
1 cup brandy
1/2 cup pineapple juice, chilled
1/2 cup lemon juice, chilled
1/3 cup triple sec
1/3 cup grenadine
2 (750 ml) bottles champagne, chilled

Fill about half of a large punch bowl with ice. Add the  wine, brandy, pineapple juice, lemon juice, triple sec and grenadine. Mix well. Top with the champagne just before serving.

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Andrew loves art and design, and pursues his studies in his final year at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He loves seeking out new artists and giving them their dues, and in his spare time, focuses on his own abstract sculpture.