Champagne! It is THE celebratory beverage but for so many of us, a wedding is one of only a few times in our lives that we actually drink it, so here are the basics, a beginner’s guide to fabulously fizzy champagne.
The first thing to know is that champagne is actually a type of wine. Yes, it’s a sparkling wine.
Unlike table wines, champagne is sometimes called Bubbly because, well, it has lots and lots of bubbles.
Champagne was first created in north-eastern France in the area known as Champagne, hence its name. It’s not far from another region, Burgundy, and there are no prizes for guessing what type of wine began in that part of the country.
Some people argue that only the sparkling wine grown from grapes in Champagne can be labelled as such and, in fact, in some countries it is illegal to label a drink Champagne unless it actually comes from Champagne.
Wherever it comes from champagne is, typically, only ever made from black Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay grapes.
Understand that table wines [as in whites and reds] and champagne are usually considered drinks for different occasions at your wedding reception. During the meal, your guests will, mostly, drink wine [and probably beer, spirits and soft drinks] with the champagne for your wedding being kept for toasts – or cocktails!
So, what types of champagne are available?
There are two main types of champagne.
- Blanc de Blancs comes from Chardonnay grapes producing a citrus flavour and
- Blanc de Noirs comes from Pinot grapes and has a rich and fuller flavour
And you can mix the types. There are many types of champagne which come from a blend of the two and they’re known as ‘non-vintage’ champagnes.
So, which should you choose?
‘Try before you buy’ is always good advice as is asking an expert, such as your caterer or wedding venue’s co-ordinator for their guidance. Obviously, your budget will be a factor in what you choose to toast your wedding to, but there are ways to maximise your budget.
Wedding venues will, often, provide the bridal table with a particularly special champagne; after all it is your wedding. A bottle of Bolly (as in Bollinger) should do the trick.
If you know there are people who are only occasional drinkers or who worry about driving after the event, there are some low-alcohol alternatives to champagne.
Prosecco (Italian), Cava (Spain) or Asti (Italian) are wines lighter in alcoholic content. You can even consider white wine spritzers. Half-fill a flute with white wine then add soda or sparkling water.
Where do the bubbles come from?
Without bubbles, champagne is just wine!
Champagne is the result of fermentation, which is a process by which sugar and yeast are combined to produce alcohol and CO2. By forcing the CO2 to remain in the liquid, bubbles are produced – and they’re only released after the bottle is opened and poured out.
So, what is the difference between a sparkling wine and champagne?
They’re actually the same thing except, technically, you can only call sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne region Champagne. If it isn’t, it’s sparkling wine! So, though Champagne is a sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
What’s a magnum?
Aside from being a rather delicious Australian ice cream, the word magnum also refers to the size of a champagne bottle. Champagne, generally, comes in two sizes: standard (750 millilitres) and magnums (1.5 litres). Afficianados reckon champagne from a magnum is better because it holds less oxygen and because the volume to surface area of the bottle leads to better bubbles!
What is pink champagne?
Pink champagne is not a normal champagne with a little food colouring added. It’s actually champagne that is made from a different ratio of grape types in it than usual, some with red skins which are left to sit longer than usual, therefore turning what should be a white beverage pink. The longer the skins are left to sit, the more pink the drink’s hue.
Pink champagne – and it is an excellent base for cocktails!
And, what about the wedding toasts?
Every couple knows the wedding speeches and toasts are a hugely important and, often, emotional, part of their wedding. The clinking of glasses, the raised flutes and the saying aloud of the, typically, unsaid, all make for an emotional moment.
Traditionally, these toasts are made with champagne, usually in champagne flutes which are characterised by a long stem with a long, narrow bowl.
How do I open a bottle of champagne (without making a fool of myself)?
First of all, stop worrying! Ensure your champagne bottle is chilled and point the bottle away from people. Peel away the bottle’s foil cap, then the wire hood. Grab the neck of the bottle at a 45 degree angle and keep your thumb on the cork. Now, untwist the cage and, once it’s loose, slowly rotate the fat half of the bottle so that you can slowly ease out the cork. You should hear a soft pop – and you’re done!
If you pull out the cork, expect it to go flying – and never use a corkscrew to open a bottle of champagne.
Apart from the top-of-the-range sparkling wines, most champagne vintages do not improve with age. Once you buy and chill it, the drink is good to go.
Now, bring on the Bubbly!