Holiday parties are upon us. Nothing sets the stage more perfectly than walking into a party, pulling a glass of bubbles from an ornate silver tray, and drinking the heady sparkler. I receive more emails requesting sparkler and Champagne suggestions in December than at any other time of the year. People are confused about how to select a type or style of sparkling wine. They also ask me to detail the proper etiquette for giving a Champagne toast. Below is A Champagne primer discussing wine sweetness levels, bottle sizes and defining terms of style and production. I have also outlined the logical approach to toasting.
Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis, MS also advises us on the proper storage, chilling and opening techniques in her 2016 PRiME Magazine article: “Affordable, Festive Sparking Wine and Champagne.”
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I’m not.” – Coco Chanel
A Champagne Primer
Champagne Sweetness Terms
- Brut Natural or Brut Zéro – very dry 0-3 gm./liter of sugar
- Extra Brut – dry – less than 6 grams/liter
- Brut – dry – less than 12 grams/liter
- Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra Seco – a bit sweeter – 12-20 grams/liter
- Dry, Sec, Seco – 17-35 grams/liter
- Demi-Sec, Semi Seco – very sweet – 33-50 grams/liter
- Doux, Sweet, Dulce – lusciously sweet – 50+ grams/liter
Champagne Bottle Sizes
- Split – 187 ml.
- Half-bottle – 375 ml.
- Bottle – 750 ml.
- Magnum – 1.5 Liters (2 Bottles)
- Jeroboam – 3.0 L (4 Bottles)
- Methuselah – 8 Bottles
- Salmanazar – 12 Bottles
- Balthazar – 16 Bottles
- Nebuchadnezzar – 20 Bottles
Vintages, Styles, Producers
- Vintage – a single harvest year
- Tête de Cuvée – the luxury top-of-the-line for a Champagne house
- NV – non vintage – usually the signature or house style of a Champagne house
- RM (a “Grower Champagne” meaning Récoltant-Manipulant) – a grower owns his own vineyards and makes his own Champagne.
- NM – (meaning Négociant-Manipulant) appears on the labels of large Champagne houses that source the majority of their grapes from growers.
- CM – (meaning Coopérative-Manipulant) is a co-operative of growers who blend their Champagne from their collective vineyards.
- RC – (meaning Récoltant-Coopérateur) is a wine sourced from a single grower but made for them entirely by a cooperative.
- SR – (meaning Société de Récoltants) is a registered firm set up by two or more growers who share a winery they use to make wine under their own labels. There is significant involvement of the grower in the winemaking process.
- Blanc de Blancs- made from all white grapes: (white from white) Chardonnay grapes.
- Blanc de Noirs – made from all red grapes (white from black) Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes
A Champagne toast
Special occasions often require you to give a Champagne toast for the gathering. A few guidelines: Spontaneous toasts only look that way. Select the right words and practice them. A touch of humor is rarely out of place. Understand that you may be recorded and tweeted later, so be appropriate. When ready, make sure that everyone has been poured a glass of wine. Say, “May I have your attention,” vs. beating on the glassware with utensils. Stand up. Look and speak directly to the Toastee, first and last, while in between addressing the rest of the audience. Don’t gesture with your glass or you may slosh the wine. A 90 second or less length of toast is always appreciated. Finally say, “Let’s welcome,” or, “Let’s celebrate Max, a great friend,” or, “To Max,” or another appropriate ending. Tip your glass and take a sip at the end of the Champagne toast.
“In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it” – Winston Churchill
Where to find great bubbles
Great bubbles are found all over the world: Champagne or Cremant from France; Sparkling Shiraz or Chardonnay from Australia and Tasmania; American sparklers from many states including California, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, New Mexico, Texas or New York; Cava from Spain; sparklers from South Africa; Prosecco or Franciacorta from Italy; Sekt from Germany Austria, Czech Republic; and now British sparkling wines.
“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.” – Charles Dickens
A pairing for any occasion
All special occasions call for Champagne, but winter holiday parties demand a festive sparkler, especially for a special Champagne toast. Food pairing for Champagne spans from appetizers to main courses, then desserts. Always follow the wine and dessert pairing guideline: make sure the Champagne is sweeter (demi-sec through Doux) than the dessert or the wine will fall flat. Pair Champagne with Oysters Rockefeller, Smoked salmon toast points with cream cheese, Glazed beets and Burrata toasts, Caviar deviled eggs, and Butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sage. Cheers to all PRiME Women!
“I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” – Madam Lilly Bollinger
Provided below are suggestions of some of the finest Champagnes and sparkling wine and best value sparklers to consider for your holiday or special occasion Champagne toast.
A listing of finest Champagnes and sparkling wine
Wine Enthusiast 95 Points, Wine Spectator 93 Points
Notes: Well-aged, reserve-style wine that is one of California’s best. The wine is attractively smoky, toasty with bold aroma’s of cinnamon apple and brioche. The texture is plush and the finish long and smooth.
Wine Enthusiast 97 Points
Notes: This Champagne features a continuous stream of delicate bubbles with aromas of dried apple, mango and ginger. The texture is like silk and the beads are so fine.
Wine Enthusiast 97 Points, Wine Spectator 95 Points
Notes: In 1876, Tsar Alexander II asked Louis Roeder to make a cuvée for his personal use which was unique in style and bottle. This wine features a beautiful balance between ripe fruit and crisp texture. Lots of dried-apple and pineapple character with bread dough and flan flavors. The bubbles are so fine you almost don’t notice them.
Best Value Sparklers
Wine Spectator 90 Points
Notes: Crisp, full-bodied sparkling wine which developed rich complexity and a fine mousse. This wine features a toasty finish from 24 months on tirage, and is a complement to the sophisticated apple and citrus flavor.
Wine Spectator 90 Points
Notes: A tangy, bright and immediate-drinking Champagne that is almost crunchy in texture, showing a harmony to the flavors of white peach, grated ginger, clover honey and candied lemon zest.
Robert Parker, 90 Points
Notes: This Non Vintage sparkler has pretty apricot and mango scents that are lively and vivacious. The palate shows a crisp acidity. Made with 53% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir. Aged in bottle for 15 months.
“Come quickly, I’m tasting the stars!” – Dom Perignon shouts to his fellow monks