5 Mistakes People Make When Drinking Champagne
To start, you're probably serving your bubbles too cold
Old habits die hard—and some of them aren’t doing us any favors when it comes to enjoying Champagne. The next time you buy that celebratory bottle, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck by avoiding these common mistakes, as identified by wine experts.
They serve it too cold.
“I don’t like to put it right in the ice bucket,” says Kathryn Coker, head of the wine program at Esters Wine Bar in Los Angeles. (It’s been called the best wine bar in Southern California by the L.A. Times, and it’s cheffed by Ubuntu alum Jeremy Fox.) “My favorite thing is to open it when it’s cold, and then let it sit on the table. I like to see what happens when it warms up naturally to cellar temperature, around 55 degrees,” says Coker. “All the flaws come out, and all the nuances come out.” She likes to open Champagne when it’s around 45 degrees, and then pop it back in the fridge when it starts to warm up.
Matteo Lunelli, president and CEO of wine company Ferrari Trento (no relation to the car company), recommends storing your bottle in a cool dark place, and then refrigerating it the night before drinking. The final temperature should be between 42.8° F and 44.6° F. His one caution: storing sparkling wines in the fridge for too long can alter the taste. “The cork can dry out due to no humidity and, as the corks dry out, the seal between the bottle and the cork loosen up and the wine will oxidize faster, changing its aromas. It can also absorb flavors and perfumes of other foods,” he says. Lunelli supplied Ferrari Trento to the Television Academy this year for the Emmy Awards, making it the first time in history that a sparkling wine, not a Champagne, was the toasting drink.
They pop that cork.
Yeah, it looks cool. But don’t be a hero. “I never open Champagne like that, and no sommelier will,” says Coker. “A sommelier will always put their thumb on the top and not remove it until the cork is off.” She recommends pointing the bottle at 45 degrees (taking care to not point directly at anyone, of course), and having a cloth napkin between your thumb and the cork. Then, gently twist the bottle, giving you a lot more control.
They tilt the glass.
So, there are differing viewpoints here. While Ferrari Trento recommends tilting your Champagne glass, as you’ll see most people do, Coker actually disagrees. “Any bartender will tilt the glass 45 degrees just as you would when pouring a beer, because the bubbles hit a larger surface area of the glass, which reduces the amount of foam and allowing you to pour it faster,” she says. “I pour it into a glass that’s set on the table, and that’s the correct way to pour it.” She notes that she tries to hit the sides of the glass, if she’s pouring into a flute, which does help more bubbles dissipate. You also don’t want to pour it and stop, pour it and stop. “Technically, you should pour it with only one stop in between, which means you’re pouring it really slowly,” she says.
They fill their glass all the way to the top.
Ferrari Trento recommends filling your glass to 10cl, which translates to about a fourth of a cup. That’s definitely less than a full glass, and Coker agrees. “I try to fill it only half full,” she says. “That way it stays cold and I can refill it more often.” The idea here is that, if you drink your Champagne rather slowly (as one does, because it’s Champagne), the liquid at the bottom will be warmer than the just-cold liquid at the top, meaning you’re not getting a consistent drinking experience. It’s better to refill more frequently. (And really, we can’t say no to that.)
They serve it in a Champagne flute.
Perhaps the most surprising recommendation that most winemakers and experts agree on is that flutes actually restrict the taste of Champagne. The narrower top of a flute restricts the aroma, which thereby limits the taste experience. Matteo Lunelli feels so strongly about this matter that he actually tried to import customized sparkling wine glasses from Italy—similar to white wine glasses, with a narrower top—for the 2017 Emmys, which served Ferrari Trento. (The Television Academy disagreed.)
“I prefer to drink Ferrari and all high-end sparkling wines in large tulip flutes or even large wine glasses, especially when you taste a vintage or reserve Trentodoc or when you pair it with food,” Lunelli says. While he believes that flutes emphasize the “perlage” or effervescence of a sparkling wine, he also believes they increase the perception of acidity. Using a larger glass “immediately improves the tasting experience and you start thinking about the bubbly in front of you as a wine and not only as a toast.”
Coker agrees. “You can really appreciate Champagne as a wine when it’s served this way, and not just as a delightful beverage,” she says. “Usually when I taste a wine, I smell, swirl, smell. When you have a flute, you can’t do that, and, there’s such a small amount of surface area exposed to oxygen is so much less in the flute. Less esters are able to be released.” Coker points to the fact that, in France, one almost always is served sparkling wine in a white wine glass. “The flute is more of an American thing,” she says.
Cristina Mariani-May, Co-CEO of Banfi Vintners, points to the same being true in Italy. “There, you’ll almost always see Prosecco and sparkling wine enjoyed in a white wine glass,” she says. “As with a still wine, the more a sparkler breathes, the more expressive it will become, both in the aromas and on the palate, because what you smell is what you taste.”