Beyond the Bubbles
Why it’s time to start considering Champagne for more than just parties
By Yang-Yi Goh
For centuries, Champagne has been synonymous with good times. We pop bubbly to mark all our most celebratory occasions: at weddings, on birthdays, and every New Year’s Eve. But is there more to the golden stuff than just mere party fodder? Are we underappreciating and miscasting our Champagne?
That’s what Cyril Brun would have you believe. The cellar-master of renowned maison Charles Heidsieck, Brun is a fourth-generation winemaker who was born and raised in the Champagne region—the stuff is literally in his blood.
“Champagne should speak to your soul,” Brun says. “It should be a purveyor of emotions. If you feel nothing after you’ve had a glass of Champagne, you’ve lost your time and your money.”
We couldn’t agree more, so we asked Brun to give us his best tips for properly enjoying and appreciating a good bottle of Champagne. Here’s what he had to say.
Bubbles Aren’t Everything
“When you’re drinking an entry-level sparkling wine, most of your attention will be focused on the bubbles, because there’s nothing really more than the bubbles. But in the case of quality Champagne, the bubbles become secondary. You have so much more going on in the nose and on the palate—it’s multifaceted. You’ll taste white fruits, yellow fruits, a little spice, a little smokiness, and then you’ll discover what is the true texture of Champagne: it’s creamy, buttery, silky.”
“Normally, flutes are used to put the emphasis on the Champagne’s effervescence, and not on the flavours. For me, it’s just the opposite. I recommend using white burgundy glasses to really elevate the complexity of the flavours. It gives the Champagne a chance to express itself better, because it has a larger contact with oxygen. It’ll amplify and diversify the sensations in your mouth, bringing out a primary, secondary and even third layer of aromas. “
Take Your Time…
“A lot of people only drink Champagne in a noisy atmosphere in the middle of the night. They don’t treat it as a wine; they just treat it as a beverage for socializing or celebrations. When they spend $80 on a bottle of Champagne, very likely they’ll drink it all in 10 minutes. By contrast, if you spend the same amount on a bottle of red wine, you’re going to sit down, take your time and have the proper glasses and prepare for the occasion. If you sit down and take the same care with your Champagne, then even in 20 minutes you’re going to have five or six different sips, and each sip will bring you something new. Then you will discover the true, complex nature of Champagne.”
…Because They Take Theirs
“A quality bottle of Champagne comes from respecting the wine and taking your time. Time is a key element in the equation. Sometimes, people will say, “I don’t think there’s much of a difference between Champagne and other sparkling wine.” In many cases, that’s because if you haven’t matured your Champagne long enough, the frontier between the two categories will not be that significant. You have to give it time to express and reveal everything it can. We allow even our entry-level bottles at least 6 to 7 years to mature; most Champagne on the market is only 2 to 3 years old. It’s just like cooking: when you have dishes that you prepare and leave simmering for hours, you’ll have a concentration, a depth of flavours that’s totally different from something you cook in a few minutes.”
“Champagne is quite easy to pair, because it has such complexity of flavour. It goes particularly well with seafood and white meats, but personally I love cheese and Champagne. You have the same profile of flavours. Cheese can mature from six months up to four years, and within the same category of cheese you can have different grades of maturation. There are a lot of parallels to be made between aging Champagne and aging cheese. It’s interesting to do a kind of vertical tasting of cheeses and Champagnes—having different ages side-by-side—which can help you to discover the various facets of both by comparison.”
No Occasion Necessary
“There’s no reason to wait for something special to drink Champagne. Here in France, everyone who I consider to be civilized always has at least one bottle of Champagne in the fridge. You don’t need an occasion. Whether you have a good day or a bad day, you might want a glass of Champagne for no reason, just to enjoy it for what it is and not merely for the context in which you drink it.”