Everything you ever wanted to know about Champagne for this New Year's Eve.
“Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.”—Tom Waits
Picture a dank cellar in the Champagne region of France around the year 1700. A blind monk lifts a goblet of wine he has made, tastes it, then cries out, “Come, brothers! Hurry! I am drinking stars!” as if he had just discovered the orgasm. The monk was Dom Pérignon, and much to his surprise the wine had bubbles in it. Thus, booze mythologists would have us believe, the wine known as champagne was born. Today bubbly from France’s Champagne region is the most revered glassful in the world, the drink of success, excess, romance and debauchery.
The Juice on the Juice
BLANC DE BLANCS: The lightest and most delicate of champagnes, blanc de blancs is made with only chardonnay grapes. Pictured: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1998 ($250).
BRUT: Your basic delicious dry champagne, such as Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (pictured, $35).
CHAMPAGNE: (1) A sparkling wine made exclusively in France’s Champagne region from the following grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. (2) Slang: an underage girl at a party (full of alcohol, not aged 21 years).
CHAMPAGNE BRAIN: The hangover headache unique to bubbly.
CHAMPAGNE ROOM: The back room at a strip club, where sex never ever happens.
CUVÉE: A blend of wines, mixed by winemakers who aim for a consistent flavor year after year no matter the harvest. A bottle of bubbly may contain 60 different wines.
DEMI-SEC: Moderately sweet (as in not brut).
PRESTIGE CUVÉE: A term used to describe a champagne house’s highest offering. Examples: Dom Pérignon from Moët & Chandon and Cristal from Louis Roederer.
PROSECCO: Italy’s most famous sparkling wine is cheaper and drier than champagne and often used as a substitute. It’s the chief ingredient in a wonderful panty-dropper called the bellini (prosecco and white-peach puree). Pictured: Ruggeri & C. Gold Label Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($15).
ROSÉ: Pink bubbly. A little red wine is blended into the mix, imparting color and berry notes.
VINTAGE: A single-year bottling made when the head winemaker at a champagne house thinks the grapes from a particular harvest are outstanding. The wine must be aged at least three years and will always be bottled with a year on it. Pictured: Krug 1998 ($300).
For him FRENCH 75: Named for the 75-millimeter gun the French army used in WWI, this refresher starts with a shot and a half of gin, half a shot of fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of simple syrup (or powdered sugar), shaken with ice and strained into a chilled flute. Fill the rest of the way with champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist.
For her CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL: Drop a sugar cube into a chilled champagne flute and add a dash of Angostura bitters. Fill the flute with champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist. If she likes them stiffer, float half a shot of cognac on top. Replace the brandy with Campari and you have yourself a different drink: the good-night kiss.
For the party
CHAMPAGNE PUNCH: Before the party, mix and chill your base: a cup of Grand Marnier, a cup of cognac, half a cup of Chambord and two cups of pineapple juice. When your guests arrive, pour the base into a large bowl, add big hunks of ice, then add a quart of ginger ale and two bottles of decent champagne. Serves 12.
Where do the bubbles in bubbly come from? The second fermentation. You take still wine, add yeast and sugar, then seal it from air (sugar + yeast = alcohol + CO2 bubbles). Voilà.
Is it true that the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne? Most experts believe yes: The longer the champagne is aged, the smaller the bubbles get.
Approximately how many bubbles are in a bottle? Forty-nine million (no, we didn’t make this up).
Is California sparkling wine any good? Absolutely, and it’s cheaper than champagne, too (only bubbly from the Champagne region of France can technically be called champagne). Try Iron Horse 2004 Classic Vintage Brut ($33).
Biggest champagne fan ever? That would be Marilyn Monroe. Biographer George Barris said she breathed champagne “as if it were oxygen.”