How to Chill, Uncork, and Pour Champagne Like a Wine Expert
Champagne is most often associated with elegant dining and special occasion celebrations, including New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, engagements, weddings, baby and bridal showers, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and job promotions and raises. If you're investing in a bottle or two, it's probably to commemorate something special. Make the most of that investment by doing justice to it!
It isn't difficult to choose the right wine glasses; chill the bottle to the ideal temperature and uncork and pour your bubbly correctly. It just takes a bit of practice and the right guidance. Follow these four simple steps to serve champagne like a professional sommelier!
Step 1: Choose the Right Glass
Did you know the shape of the glass can affect your enjoyment of the wine?
Why Wine Experts Recommend Against Champagne Flutes or Coupes
I love the festive look of bubbly in flutes. In fact, they're often referred to as champagne flutes. But experts say they're not the optimal shape for sipping sparkling wine. According to those in the know, the narrow opening preserves the wine's effervescence, but it doesn't let in enough oxygen to "open up" the champagne and doesn't expose enough surface area for the aroma to reach the nose. (Smell has a significant effect on taste).
The classic, wide-mouthed coupe, also called a champagne saucer, conjures up visions of glamorous Hollywood stars of the 1940s and '50s. Unfortunately, this glass shape lets the effervescence and aroma dissipate too quickly and is too shallow to allow the wine to aerate properly.
Experts recommend a white wine glass or tulip glass.
Then again, rules are made to be broken, and it's your celebration. So if your heart is set on using flutes or coupes, I say, go for it!
The one hard-and-fast rule when it comes to serving sparkling wines is using stemmed wine glasses. Holding the glass by the stem, rather than by the bowl, helps keep the beverage chilled.
Step 2: Don't Over-Chill the Bottle
The ideal temperature for serving champagne is 46–50°F, and experts say Americans drink their much too cold for optimal taste, aroma, and effervescence. Chill the bottle long enough to reach that temperature (around 4 hours in the refrigerator), but not longer than 3–4 days.
Don't open the chilled bottle until you're ready to pour it.
Step 3: Uncork the Chilled Bottle Properly
Follow these five simple steps to uncork chilled champagne like a pro.
- Remove the foil from around the top of the bottle. If it doesn't tear off easily, score/slice the foil with a knife, then tear it off with your fingers.
- Loosen the wire cage around the cork by holding the wire tab (loop) and untwisting it six twists. Leave the loosened wire cage in place over the cork.
- Cover the top of the bottle with a cloth napkin. (While not mandatory, covering with a napkin is an extra safety precaution.) Holding the base of the bottle in your non-dominant hand, tilt the top of the bottle away from you (and anyone else and anything breakable, like a window!) at a 45-degree angle.
- Still holding the base of the bottle firmly, grasp the cork (still covered with the loosened wire cage) through the napkin so the cork can't pop off prematurely, keeping either your thumb or your palm over the cork.
- Putting some counter-pressure on the top of the cork with your thumb or palm, twist the bottle counterclockwise at a fairly slow, constant speed until the cork loosens and comes out of the neck. You may hear a small amount of air escaping just before the cork comes out. If you do this correctly, you should hear almost no sound. Safety tip: Always twist the bottle, not the cork!
- Keep the bottle at the same 45-degree angle after removing the cork to preserve the sparkle in your sparkling wine.
Note: Popping the cork may sound festive, but the lost effervescence diminishes the taste. Besides, it's dangerous. Don't do it.
The Best Type of Napkin for Uncorking the Bottle
There are several criteria in choosing a napkin for this purpose. First, it's important to choose a fabric that isn't slippery. Ideally, pick that has a textured weave and is made from natural linen, cotton, or a linen/cotton blend to give you a firm grip on the cork. Also, you want a square napkin that is at least 20" x 20".
I'm lucky enough to have inherited some very finely woven, heavy linen damask napkins (and matching tablecloths) from my grandmother and mother many years ago. But if I needed to purchase new napkins to open champagne, my pick would be . They are genuine linen, i.e., woven flax, giving them a subtle texture for a good grip on the cork. They're also available in classic white (as well as several other subtle, solid colors) and have mitered corners, lending a discreet and tasteful elegance to make the bottle, not the napkin, the star of the special occasion or event. Unlike many 100% linen woven fabric items, these easy-care napkins can be machine washed (cold water, gentle cycle) and pressed on a low setting. (Most linens required a very hot iron setting, and it's easy to scorch them accidentally.) And the price is very reasonable for high-quality, handcrafted, natural linen napkins. Natura by Solino Home 100% Linen Dinner Napkins
Step 4: Pour the Champagne Correctly
To reduce the amount of foam while pouring and keep the champers cold:
- Grip the base of the bottle firmly with your dominant (pouring) hand. (If your hands are small or you lack sufficient grip strength to hold the bottle securely this way, you can press your thumb into the depression underneath the bottle for better stability.)
- Holding the glass by the stem, tilt it toward the bottle at a 45-degree angle and raise it to just under the mouth of the bottle.
- Slowly tilt the bottle so the wine slides down the side of the glass as you pour.
Tip: If there is any wine leftover in the bottle, experts say don't put it in a bucket of ice while waiting to refill the glasses. Freezing the champagne will diminish the flavor and aroma. However, if you choose to serve your bubbly ice-cold, as is often done in the U.S., it makes sense to keep the open bottle buried in ice.
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© 2018 Margaret Schindel