Serving Champagne Etiquette – A Fine Art
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the etiquette that goes with Champagne, if you would like to see the products of our family produced Champagne you can do so HERE.
Champagne itself is a refreshing sparkling wine made by a Champagne House, and must be located in the Champagne region of France in order to have Champagne on the bottle. There are some crucial differences between a fine Champagne and the sparkling wine produced in other countries, and they are:
- For a bottle of wine to have the word Champagne on, it must have been produced in the Champagne region.
- A bottle of Champagne must have been made from Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes that grow in that region.
- A fine Champagne will have gotten the bubbles from the second fermentation process rather than having them added at a later stage,
- If the Champagne is produced elsewhere, credit for the ‘Methode Champenoise’ must have been given somewhere on the label.
The Champagne Story – History & Origin
The King would have been arriving in Reims, probably for a mass or something similar, and of course the abbeys in the surrounding areas would have been providing wine for the occasion. This was quite a responsibility for the monks as it was being drunk by the finest people in the land, so clearly this sowed the seeds for improving the quality of the Champagne.
Back then this wine was called Champagne, although for obvious reasons it had little in common with the Champagne that we know today.
The Dom Perignon Legend
When you think of a fine Champagne from the best Champagne houses, surely only one name comes to mind, that name can only be Dom Perignon. Not far from Reims is found Hautvilliers Abbey, and there resided a Benedictine monk who went by the name of Dom Pierre Perignon, who was not only the cellar master but also the chief treasurer. He took control of the reigns in 1688 and at this point of course we were still far from the birth of Champagne.
The standard of the wine at that point was adequate, if a little pale, and bore no resemblance to the luxury Champagne of his name that we know today. The worry was that the deep red wine from the Burgundy area was attracting the attention of the King, so something needed to be done, and this marks the beginning of the start of Champagne. The wine was lighter in appearance, although there was little that could be done to change this as it linked to the cooler climate of the area.
The climate of the area meant that the grapes needed to be harvested earlier than they would normally have been, and the wine barrels were far too cold in the winter months. The pale wine that was produced needed to be bottled which contravened the usual method as they had not started on their fermentation yet, and here begins the story of the birth of Champagne
The royal demand was such that the monks had no choice but to deliver, the fine wines fermentation had paused due to the cold, but when spring came along the temperature awakened the fermentation and the bubbles came, and so Champagne was born!
The result was still far from being the Champagne we know today, although they were making progress. Perignon was still frustrated at the presence of the bubbles so they began tinkering with the formula by using various types of grapes and taking away the skin. This was the birth of blending and also saw the first wine ever to be created! And this new white wine also continued to have bubbles appearing during the fermentation – and there was the first proper Champagne!
Interestingly, back then the discovery of the bubbles meant anything other than the birth of a fine Champagne, all it meant was that yet another batch had not worked properly. Not only that, but they were losing bottles as the bottles were exploding due to the pressures inside them!
Dom Perignon refused to give in however, and as the story goes, when he tasted the new lighter wine that had bubbles in it he realised he had stumbled upon a fine Champagne as he proclaimed “Come quickly, brothers! I’m tasting stars!”
All they needed now was a way to bottle this fine Champagne without the bottles exploding and it could be the start of something. Dom Perignon started several experiments, he changed the shape of the bottle, and also started using a heavier glass to be able to house this luxury Champagne. The stronger bottle stopped the explosions of the Champagne bottles taking place, but this only served to shift the problem elsewhere.
Now the bubbly kept blowing out the corks and stoppers out the other side and the fine Champagne was lost in this way! Perignon decided to source some real cork stoppers from Spain and the solution was found, and this fine Champagne started to resemble the Champagne that we know today. The King was delighted with the new product, and from then on the top Champagne brands started to emerge and produce their own fine Champagne.
The fine Champagnes that were being produced carried on in the way they had been for a further century or so, and it was not until Nicole Clicquot found new techniques to improve the fermentation of her Veuve Champagne. The top Champagne brand Veuve Clicquot was born when the Champagne house of her husband changed forever when he sadly passed away when she was only 27. She was therefore thrust into the limelight and proved to be a shrewd business woman and continued improving her fine Champagne that is increasingly popular today.
She noticed that the build up of pressure in the bottles could be significant, so she asked her cellar master to rotate the bottles ever so slightly on a daily basis, and here was born the luxury Champagne method that is still employed today.
If you order Champagne from us today, you will know that it has been made in the way that Nicole Clicquot did with her Veuve Champagne. This process is called riddling, and you will see it done by hand in the top Champagne houses when they make their top Champagne brands,.
Veuve Clicquot Champagne
Veuve Clicquot Champagne House also finely tuned a method which improved the quality of the fine Champagne and also how most Champagnes are made. This method was entitled ‘disgorgement’ and the idea behind it was to remove the corks while the second fermentation was taking place and the innovation was to move any yeast that had accumulated in the luxury Champagne.
They stored the fine Champagne bottles at a particular angle so that the yeast they needed to remove was found in the neck of the bottle. When the cork was released, the pressure that was already in the bottle immediately removed the sediment and this was another step to it becoming the Champagne we know today. The cork would then be quickly put back in order not to lose any of the fine Champagne that was in the bottle.
The combination of all these methods is what is called ‘Methode Champenoise’, and that is how your fine Champagne is made. It combines the best practice of centuries of trials and errors to make the perfect Champagne you can find. This combination of blending grapes, fermentation within the bottle, riddling and removing the corks is what makes up the method.
If someone from another country employs the same method, although it may not actual Champagne, they are legally entitled to put ‘Methode Champenoise’ on the bottle.
Champagne Serving Etiquette – Do’s & Don’ts
- Never over-chill Champagne, a fine Champagne should always be cool, but never icy or close to freezing.
- Never half fill a Champagne bucket otherwise Champagne will only be half cold. If need be add water to the Champagne bucket, this way the cold will be spread more evenly over the Champagne.
- Never try to fit two Champagne bottles in the same Champagne bucket. If you do have a second bottle of Champagne, put it in the fridge and let it cool there first.
- Never chill the glasses in advance, the effect if you do is that the bubbles from your Champagne will be adversely affected.
With the bottle
- Never hide the label of your Champagne. This practice actually started in the nightclubs around Paris when the waiter didn’t want the customers to know they were being served a cheap Champagne rather than an expensive Champagne. If you have a top Champagne brand show it off for the world to see!
- Never put an empty Champagne bottle upside down in an ice bucket. By doing so you are showing disrespect to the fine Champagne that you have just enjoyed.
- Never swirl the Champagne around in your glass. This is entitled ‘champagne battering’ and you will only reduce the fizz that is in your bottle of Champagne.
- Never be one of those fools who shake up a Champagne bottle to deliberately shower their friends to celebrate a victory, it is a waste of a fine Champagne.
The tradition in France is that should you have a cork that refuses to move, giving up is not an option. If the cork in your bottle of Champagne just will not budge, you can attempt to recreate what the “Hussards” did, which was to use their sabre to break open the fine Champagne bottle.
And it is from here that the expression “sabrer la bouteille”, which quite literally means “Sabering the bottle”. So the obvious thing to take from this is that the French would rather destroy the bottle than not to have the luxury Champagne at all!
Getting the wire off the cork of a fine Champagne
Certain experts believe that if you are able to take off the wire in less than six twists that you are about to get a fine Champagne. In actual fact you don’t need to take the wire off in order to get rid of the cork, all you need to do is make the wire loose, then grip the cork, and the rock back and forth. So next time to want to impress your friends when you open a bottle of Champagne, you know how!
Drinking the fine Champagne
According to all makers of champagne and sparkling wines, you should drink this effervescent delight from a tall fluted glass which allows the bubbles to circulate. But wasn’t the champagne “coupe” (a wide mouthed goblet) a French invention? Some believe that the shallow, bowl shaped champagne “coupe” was modelled in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s (the wife of Louis the Sixteenth) breast.
Others believe that it was created to commemorate the breast of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of the preceding king, Louis the Fifteenth. No matter whose breast was the inspiration for the shallow drinking vessel, all experts agree that it should never be used to serve champagne or sparkling wine. Save it for ice cream or sorbet.
And if you’re lucky enough to be the owner of fine crystal, be sure to use it: the irregularities in this elegant glass actually keep the bubbles alive longer.
Champagne Bottle Trivia
- There are roughly 60 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne
- The pressure within a bottle of Champagne is roughly 50kg per square inch, which is also 3 times what you will find in your car tyre!
- A flying cork from a Champagne bottle travels around 50mph, which if it hit you in the eye has the potential to cause blindness.
- California produced roughly 60 million Champagne bottles in 2000.
- France produced roughly 330 million Champagne bottles in 2000.
- Washington DC has the highest average consumption of Champagne bottles per capita, with approximately 2.4 per adult.