A toast to the New Year

A toast to  the New Year

New Year’s Eve is a time to reflect on the past 12 months and to celebrate all the new opportunities and possibilities of the future. Traditionally, a Champagne toast is given when the clock strikes midnight, but before you top off your glass, do you know which type is best for your party and tastiest for your guest?

Basics of Bubbly

Champagne with a capital “C” comes from the Champagne region in France, which means it also comes with a hefty price tag. However, champagne with a lowercase “c,” usually called sparkling wine, comes from other areas and is a moderately priced alternative. The main difference is Champagne is fermented twice to build up carbonation, while sparkling wine — or champagne — is only fermented once. To spot a just-as-good-sparkler, look for “Methode Traditionelle” on the bottle’s label. This means the sparkling wine has been made the same way true Champagne is, just with a shorter fermentation process.

One of the beauties of Champagne is the remarkable diversity of styles that come from such a small corner of the world. Each style and type of Champagne is designed to please the various preferences in taste. The primary types of Champagne include Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé.

Blanc de blanc means “white from white” — or white Champagne from white Chardonnay grapes. Blanc de blanc tends to have a light, dry taste and is best for light meals like seafood or soups. Stuffed mushrooms, or lobster bisque go great with Blanc de blanc. Avoid heavy tomato-based sauces, as the tomatoes can clash with the high acidity of the champagne.

Blanc de noirs are white Champagnes made only from the black grape varieties of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Typically, these sparkling wines are full-bodied and deeper yellow-gold in color. They are ideal for full-flavored foods, including meats and cheeses such as parmesan, gouda or cheddar. Goat cheese pairs wonderfully, as well.

Pink or rosé Champagnes are produced by one of two methods. The traditional method involves the addition of a small amount of Pinot Noir to the base wine prior to the second fermentation. The maceration method involves the pressing of the grape skins, allowing them to soak with the juice of the grapes prior to fermentation. While the popularity of rosé Champagnes comes and goes, rosé undoubtedly brings a special element of romance because of its pink hue. Pair with desserts that aren’t very sweet, such as berries, shortbread, pound cake, angel food cake, or tart, lemony desserts.

Try serving hushpuppies, prosciutto, oysters and a variety of chocolate covered fruits with your Champagne as the light, salty foods will go nicely with any type.

Storing Champagne:

Champagne is more sensitive to temperature and light than most other wines. For that reason, it is typically bottled in a light-resistant, dark green glass. Champagne should be stored between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and may be kept upright or horizontally.

Chilling Champagne: Ideally, the beverage should be chilled to a temperature between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. To reach this, place the bottle in a refrigerator for a couple of hours or a freezer for 15 minutes. Finally, the classic way to chill a bottle of Champagne is to place it in an ice-bucket, half filled with ice, half with water, for 20 minutes.

Opening a Champagne bottle: While the idea of shaking the bottle before opening for a magnificent spray, or showing off your samurai skills with a sword seems appealing, the trick to opening a bottle of Champagne while maintaining its integrity is to avoid “popping” the cork. Begin by scoring the foil around the base of the wire cage. Then, carefully untwist and loosen the bottom of the cage, but do not remove it. In one hand, enclose the cage and cork while holding the base of the Champagne bottle with your other hand. Twist both ends in the opposite direction. As soon as you feel pressure forcing the cork out, try to push it back in while continuing to twist gently until the cork is released with a sigh.

Bubbles on a budget

In case you are still recovering from the holiday expenses and not rolling in the dough just yet this year, similar delicious sparkling wines make a great alternative for your palate and your wallet.

Dom Perignon is perhaps one of the most famous Champagnes in the world, and it comes with the price tag to match. However, if you would still like to impress your guest with a comparable tasting beverage, try Roederer Estate Brut, a sparkling wine from California. It is the faux fur of Dom Perignon, with a  remarkably similar look, purpose and feel.

Cristal has a golden hue and honeyed nuances that carry on in a lingering finish, and can cost over $200. However, if you are looking for an alternative that won’t break the bank, Berlucchi ’61 Brut is Italy’s answer to Champagne. While slightly less golden than Cristal and more simple on the tongue, the style is just as rich.

Whether attending a large party or hosting few friends, enjoy the first holiday of the year safely and responsibly.

Don’t forget New Year’s Day brunch! Any left over, chilled champagne can be mixed with orange juice to make sweet mimosas.


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