Champagne is a drink most often associated with special occasions. While you can invest in a bottle to commemorate a birthday, engagement, wedding, anniversary, or holiday, you can also enjoy a glass while relaxing with friends or even by yourself.
Whether you’ve invested in Champagne yourself or you received a bottle as a gift, you want to get the most out of tasting it and enjoy the experience. Here, you’ll learn the basics of how to properly taste Champagne so that you’ll feel like a pro when you’re ready to open your bottle.
Tasting Champagne involves more than popping the cork and pouring the bubbly beverage into glasses. There are a few things that you should do to set yourself up for a delightful experience.
One of the first things you’ll need to consider is the type of glass you’ll be using. You have a few options here.
- A flute: Flutes are a classic choice for tasting Champagne. These tall, thin glasses encourage the accumulation of bubbles to deliver a sharp effervescence. The height also matters.
- A tulip glass: Tulip glasses are a more modern alternative to flutes. They’re thin at the bottom of the glass and gradually open up near the center and become slightly more narrow at the top. The wide center provides more surface area for bubbles to pop, and the narrower opening keeps the aromas from escaping too quickly.
- A coupe: A coupe glass has a wide, short bowl and often conjures up images of the speakeasies of the roaring 20s. While flashy, the bubbles and aromas escape quickly. Still, they make a great glass for a theme party.
Next, you’ll need to get your Champagne and your glasses to the ideal temperature. Yes, you read that right — the temperature of the glasses plays a role in your overall tasting experience. They shouldn’t be too warm or too cold, but they should be cool to the touch.
The ideal temperature of your Champagne depends on its type, and it’s essential for bringing out the complexities and enjoying everything Champagne has to offer. The optimal temperature for non-vintage varieties ranges from 46.4° to 50°F, while the best temperature for vintage and Cuvée varieties is between 50° and 53.6°F.
Pouring a Glass
Once you’ve achieved the ideal serving temperature, it’s time to pour your glass and taste it. Much like tasting any other wine, the process requires all five of your senses. Let’s take a look at how to pour the perfect glass.
Listen to the Cork
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want to pop the cork. If it pops, it could indicate that your Champagne is too warm — or perhaps too young. Instead, you want to release it gently. The bottle should sigh (or hiss), almost as if in satisfaction. If you don’t hear anything when you open the bottle, or it sounds underwhelming at best, the cork may have had a bad seal. It could also be an indication that the bottle was simply kept too long after final bottling. The stem of a Champagne cork will shrink over long periods of time, so there is the potential to compromise the seal. Either way, it is likely your Champagne will be a bit flat.
Get a Little Touchy
Tasting Champagne is very hands-on. You’ve already used touch once to test the temperature of your glasses and your Champagne. You’ll use it again once you’ve released the cork. It should feel slightly moist at the end. If it’s bone-dry, the bottle may have been sitting upright for too long. Dry corks shrivel and compromise the seal.
You’ll also want to give the cork a good once over with your eyes. The entire thing should be the same color, save for a very small portion on the side. If there’s a significant amount of darkening, the Champagne may have gotten too warm at once point, which could affect the taste of the Champagne.
How to Pour
If the bottle gave you a contented sigh and the cork looks good, you’re ready to pour. Keep the cork where you can see it, though, because you’ll want it later. Pouring is a bit of an art form, but it’s not hard to master.
Place your thumb in the depression at the bottom of the bottle and spread your fingers out to hold it. Tilt the glass 45°, holding onto it by the stem, and gently pour down the side to avoid foam. Fill the glass to the widest point, or halfway up. For extra flair, twist the bottle to prevent dripping on the lip of the glass.
Tasting Like a Pro
You’ve opened the bottle and poured your glass. Now, on to the main event: the tasting. Let’s get started.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Take a moment to really look at the liquid in your glass. Holding the glass by the stem, raise it to eye level. As you admire your Champagne, take note of the following three attributes:
- Color: Younger Champagnes tend to be pale yellow while older ones have a straw hue.
- Clarity: Younger Champagnes are much clearer, while older ones are harder to see through clearly.
- Bubble activity: Ideally, you want many tiny bubbles. Older Champagnes have fewer bubbles, and they move much more lazily.
Remember the cork we told you to keep nearby? You should also check it periodically during the tasting. A good cork gradually regains its cylindrical shape, even if it’s been in storage for several years.
Follow Your Nose
Unlike wine, you don’t have to swirl a glass of Champagne. It’s actually recommended that you don’t, as swirling may cause the liquid to foam. Instead, the bubbles release the aromas, doing the work for you.
When you’re ready to smell the Champagne, place the rim of the glass just under your nose and inhale gently. Note the Champagne’s intensity. Next, see if you can pick out specific notes. Is it fruity? Floral? The strength and notes you detect provide hints as to what you’ll experience when you take a sip.
Time to Taste
Finally, it’s time to taste your Champagne. As you take a light sip, inhale gently at the same time. Don’t take in a lot or drink it down quickly. Only sip enough to coat your tongue. Let it sit in your mouth for a moment to evolve. You might be surprised as to how the Champagne changes just by resting on your palate.
As you let the Champagne rest, consider the following:
- What’s the acidity like?
- How light or viscous is the Champagne?
- What notes do you taste?
- How long until the Champagne finishes?
When you have your answers, take another sip and enjoy the rest of your glass!
Ready to Taste Like an Expert?
You don’t have to have years of experience to taste Champagne like an expert. Whether you’re looking for a bottle to enjoy yourself, you want to entertain some friends, or you’re preparing for a special occasion, JJ Buckley Fine Wines has a vast selection of Champanges (and wines) to meet all of your needs. If you’re not sure where to start, our consultancy service can help you find the perfect bottle. Take a look around our website and place your order today!