In this guide for foodservice professionals, you will get the full 411 on all things ‘champagne,’ including types of the world’s favorite bubbly, champagne styles, grapes, regions, sweetness levels, temperature, age, how to pour the perfect glass of champagne, the best champagne glassware, and more.
As you perfect your restaurant staff’s wine-pouring etiquette, you will also enjoy some recommended champagne recipes and be privy to some secret tricks of the trade… For instance: Did you know that if the cork pops when you open a bottle of champagne, you are doing something wrong? Read on to find out how master sommeliers get the job done and how you can help your customers enjoy their bottles of bubbly to the fullest.
Types of Champagne
If you are feeling overwhelmed at the plethora of options, you are not alone! Thousands of champagne sparkling wines are produced every year and their labeling jargon, production methods, and differences can be overwhelming even for seasoned wine aficionados. As we begin to remove the guesswork keep in mind the following definition: Champagne is a specific type of sparkling wine produced solely in the Champagne region of France. While all sparkling wines bubble, not all sparkling wines are champagne.
Now for some good news: Despite the large numbers, there are essentially only three primary grapes used to make champagne, in addition to four more common but rarer grape varieties. The former are: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The latter are: Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Petite Meslier and Fromenteau. The type of grapes or grape combinations used determines the drinks’ style, such as:
- Blanc de Blancs: “White of whites,” made from 100% Chardonnay
- Blanc de Noirs: “White of blacks,” made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier
- Rosé: A blend of white and red grapes, although it can also be made from black grapes alone
Champagne Sweetness Labels
Champagnes are further categorized by their sweetness level, depending on the amount of sugar or “dosage” added at the end of the second fermentation process that creates the champagne’s bubbles. In fact, without some degree of dosage, the wine would be undrinkable due to its high acidic level. Hence, all champagne bottles indicate one of the following: Brut Nature (bone dry), Extra Brut (dry), Brut (semi-dry), Extra-Sec (medium dry), Sec (dry), Demi-Sec (medium sweet), or Doux (sweet).
And here is a champagne Insiders’ Tip for you: Most champagne is produced at a brut level of sweetness.
Aging: Vintage versus Non-Vintage Champagne
Another important factor impacting the taste of champagne is how long it is aged. Vintage champagne is aged for at least three years and is made from a single grape variety on special years in which producers deem the harvest to be particularly good. The best wines can even be aged for as long as 5-7 years before being released. Non-vintage champagne, on the other hand, aged for 15 months or more, is made from a blend of grapes, allowing producers to make a consistent house style each year (regardless of that year’s harvest). Most non-vintage wines are fruitier than their more bready and toasty vintage counterparts.
The region where the grapes are grown provides yet another feature differentiating between champagne bottles. There are five primary growing regions in the Champagne region of France, each boasting distinct qualities:
- Montagne de Reims: This region contains 17 vineyards and features Pinot Noir grapes, giving rise to a full-bodied champagne with a strong, rich flavor. (Krug, one of the most esteemed champagne brands, is made from grapes from the Montagne de Reims).
- Côte des Blancs: This region contains six vineyards, features Chardonnay grapes, and has been dubbed “Blanc des Blancs country,” It produces some of the finest single-varietal wines on the market.
- Vallée de la Marne: Located outside of the city of Épernay, this region features one vineyard that specializes in Pinot Meunier grapes, giving rise to a rich champagne with smoky and mushroom-like flavors.
- Côte de Sézanne: Containing several vineyards, this region primarily produces Chardonnay grapes, which are often blended with other grapes by large champagne producers (aka houses or “maisons”).
- Côte des Bar: A relative newcomer to the scene, this region is located away from the rest of the champagne-producing areas and features Pinot Noir grapes that are gaining a reputation for exceptional value, giving rise to a rich style of champagne.
Champagne Serving Temperature
Did you know that overly cool wine and wine that is too warm subdue some of the more delicate floral wine aromatics? In fact, fine wines are so delicate that champagne pourers are advised to hold bottles with a dishcloth and drinkers are similarly advised to hold their wine glasses by the stem to prevent their hands from heating up the bubbly.
As far as champagne is concerned, red varieties taste best when served slightly below room temperature (53°F-69°F). White varieties taste best on the slightly cool side (44°F-57 °F). Higher quality champagnes are best when served at temperatures in the 38°F-45°F range.
Since wine flavors depreciate rapidly when sitting in the open, be sure to invest in some quality bottle stoppers (wine preservers), as well as wine buckets that can be placed on the tabletop or wine bucket stands, to maintain the freshness of an open bottle. Store opened bottles in the fridge and keep them away from heat sources and direct sunlight.
Professional Guide for How to Open a Bottle of Champagne
Wine Etiquette education is particularly important for restaurant serving staff in fine-dining establishments. Serving champagne is considered an art form and your waiters can learn the art of serving it well by following in the footsteps of the master sommeliers.
The Art of Serving Champagne
- With the champagne bottle wrapped in a cloth, hold and present the champagne bottle so that your guests can see the brand, vintage, and type of wine that appears on the label. Since it is highly pressurized, treat the bottle with care so that it does not shake or move around too much.
- Upon receiving your customers’ consent or nod of approval for the choice of champagne, proceed to open the bottle by removing the cork as follows:
- Cut the foil and loosen the wire cage (muselet) surrounding the cork using a professional wine opener.
- To pop the cork by hand, hold the bottle at 45° angle. As you keep your thumb firmly on the cork to prevent unexpected explosions, start rotating the base of the champagne bottle gently to let out some of the pressure. When the cork feels looser in the bottle, continue to gently rock the cork back and forth until it pops off, which may be accompanied by a quiet hissing sound.
- Alternatively, many professionals may choose to use a corkscrew or other cork-removing device. To do so, poke the cork slightly off center to prevent the cork from tearing or breaking apart. Typically, it takes about seven turns to insert the corkscrew sufficiently, but you can follow the rule of inserting it one less turn than all the way in. (Note: Some finer wines feature especially long corks, allowing you go all the way in).
- Serve your customers in a clockwise fashion, pouring approximately 4 ounces of wine into each glass. Alternatively, if you are serving a large group of guests with a single bottle, pay attention to how much champagne you pour for each person to ensure there is enough to go around. To help you out, keep in mind that most bottles of wine contain just over 25 ounces, which divvies out evenly into five 5-ounce servings (150 ml). On the other hand, when guests are paying by the glass, to gain their favor, many US restaurants pour extra-generous 6 oz-servings (180 ml), which is an appreciated gesture.
- If customers order a second bottle of champagne, the formal process of opening the bottle in front of them is repeated.
- Word to the Champagne Wise: Remember that serving champagne in a restaurant is a first-class affair, so unlike what you may have seen in the movies, the champagne should not foam and the neck of the bottle should remain dry after opening it.
Champagne Glassware Secrets
Did you know that the type of champagne glass you use affects the taste of the wine? Since a proper glass makes any wine taste better, here is the info you need to know.
First, a short history lesson to elevate your champagne game and know-how! In 1986, Austrian glass maker Georg Riedel came out with the first line of crystal wine glasses featuring different shapes. To back up his claim that different glasses give rise to differences in taste, he held “wine glass tastings” intended to prove his theory. Ten years later, Riedel was honored with the Decanter Man of The Year award for his contribution to the world of wine.
So which is the best champagne glassware? While the debate is ongoing, the current consensus among professional wine connoisseurs is that the tulip glass takes the cake, edging out the once-more-popular champagne coups (a wide-mouth glass) and flutes. Tulip glasses are tall enough for the champagne to swirl, allowing its bubbles and aromas to develop to the fullest.
Restaurant Menu Champagne Dishes
Finally, you can captivate and win the hearts (and stomachs) of your wine-loving customers by pairing their favorite bubbly with their favorite menu items. In fact, according to Dustin Wilson, one of only 230 master sommeliers worldwide, champagne is “the most versatile wine out there with regard to food pairing.” He recommends pairing it with: shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), citrus salads, poultry, steak, cheese, sweet desserts – and even as an accompaniment to French fries, fried chicken, tacos, and popcorn!
Here are some more recommended champagne dish ideas to experiment with: Chicken au Champagne; Fettuccine or Scallops with Champagne Cream Sauce; Champagne Risotto; Avocado Citrus Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette; Strawberry Champagne Pancakes; Grape Champagne Tarts; Champagne Macaroons; Champagne Cake and Cupcakes; Raspberry Champagne Sorbet.
Finally, treat your customers to the following easy-to-prepare champagne cocktail:
- In a champagne glass, place one sugar cube
- Add five drops of Angostura bitters
- Fill each glass two-thirds full of your choice of chilled champagne
- Garnish with a strawberry half or orange slice
- Bon Appétit!
(Yield: 5 cocktails from 1 standard cshampagne bottle)