“Champagne without the bubbles would just be another wine”, says Gérard Liger-Belair, Physicist at University of Reims. So it stands to reason that with more than two million bubbles in a flute of champagne that can make or break the tasting experience, the choice of glass is very important.
In fact, the effervescence in Champagne is a pleasure trigger to the brain. Before the wine is even tasted, the eye is transfixed by the spiralling ascent of the bubbles to the surface of the glass, finishing with thousands of tiny bursts that release the aroma and promise of the taste in the glass. Then, as they burst on the tongue, the taste buds send the happy signals to the brain. The whole experience of champagne can easily be spoiled by the wrong choice of glass as the shape of the glass directly affects the rise and dispersal of the bubbles in the champagne as well as the release of aroma and flavour.
Currently, a tall tulip shaped glass is the most preferred shape for enhancing the champagne tasting experience. This shape is wide enough at the bottom to open up the wine and reveal the flavour, narrow enough near the top to concentrate the flavours to the nose and tall enough to allow the bubbles to rise. The glass needs to also be a very fine quality, clear glass to allow the drinker to fully appreciate the spiralling ascent of the bubbles and display the mousse.
“Effervescence is an important aspect of champagne. The chefs de cave take such care and the quality of a champagne is directly related to the quality of the bubbles,” says Philippe Jamesse, sommelier at three Michelin star Les Crayeres in Reims. Philippe Jamesse worked closing with Lehmann glass in France to develop the perfect champagne tasting vessel. What he ended up devising were different sized glasses for different champagnes. For complex older champagnes, he felt that a wider glass that curves back in towards the top would be better, but that it should only be filled about half way. The small, slow bubbles of aged champagne can deliver the aromas slowly in the wide part of the glass, and by not filling it too much, there is time for the complexity to develop as the bubbles rise up. The aromas are trapped in the space at the top of the glass, allowing the drinker maximum pleasure.
Non vintage champagne should be served at between 8 – 10 ⁰C, vintage slightly warmer at 10-12 ⁰C. Champagne should not be stored in the fridge for more than a couple of hours – the best way to chill it is to place it in a bucket of ice and water for 30 minutes before drinking.
How to open a bottle
The bottle is opened by first removing the foil. You should hold the cork down firmly with one hand and tilt the bottle away from your body. Untwist the wire 6 turns and loosen it away from the cork.
Still holding the cork gently, hold the bottle firmly with the other hand and rotate the bottle firmly until the cork starts to slide out. Try not to let the cork ‘pop’ to suddenly.
The glass should be filled to just over half way, never to the top of the flute. This leaves enough space for the aromas to be released and the wine to ‘unfold’. It is best to pour slowly with the glass at a slight angle to avoid too much build up of ‘mousse’.
Champagne will go flat within a couple of hours of opening, so it is best to drink the bottle once opened without delay!
You can really use all 5 senses for a great tasting experience, but the eye, the nose, and the mouth are enough to get you going.
Firstly, you must be sure to start with a clean slate – no coffee or other things which can alter your taste, and no strong perfume to alter your smell.
Before tasting, have a good look at the colour of the champagne in the glass – hold it up against something white to get a true idea. There are various different hues which change according to the age and the cuvée. Then have a look at the bubbles. Are they nice and fine? Are there a lot of them? Are they popping out of the glass, joyously looking to be drunk?
Next, take a good sniff in your glass. Swirl it around a bit (but not to energetically that it sloshes out!) There are many different aromas that can be identified before even tasting the champagne. Different grapes tend to show different characteristics.
Finally it’s time to sip. Here you will see if the champagne lives up to its promise. You can feel the balance and freshness of the drink. If you swirl it around in your mouth and exhale through your nose, you may be able to identify something familiar.
If you are really keen, you can keep a little diary of when and where you drank a particular champagne. It’s interesting to sometimes come back and compare, especially if you drink the same champagne but several months or years later.