This is the time of year when people, like me, who drink champagne once or twice per year find themselves wanting or needing to buy some Champagne for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Large liquor stores will often have a large and varied selection of the bubbly, which can be terribly confusing, with prices ranging from $4.95 per bottle to twenty times that much.
To further add to the confusion, only some of the bottles are labeled “Champagne.” That’s because to be labeled “Champagne” the bubbly wine must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. So, the stuff you see on the shelves called “Sekt” is sparkling wine made in Germany. When it is made in the U.S., it is simply called Sparkling Wine. For our purposes and for the sake of simplicity, (the complaints of the wine makers in France notwithstanding), let’s call them all “Champagne.”
If you found “Holiday Spirits, the Drinkable Kind” (December 16, 2002) useful, I thought you might appreciate a Champagne recommendation that will not bust your budget. I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed Mirabelle Brut (dry) Sparkling Wine from the Shramsberg Winery in California. For about $12.00 – $14.00 per bottle you can serve “Champagne” that should please all but the $100.00 per bottle folks. If, however, you feel that you absolutely must have French Champagne, I recommend Moet & Chandon. It is excellent, but it can set you back $35.00-$40.00 per bottle. For a New Year’s toast, I’d go with the Mirabelle.
A tip on opening Champagne. Champagne should not gush from the bottle upon opening. Gushing Champagne just means that the person opening the bottle did it incorrectly, or he just won the Indy 500 and wants to spray Champagne rather than drink it. When Champagne is opened properly, you should hear a soft “pop” as the cork comes out of the bottle. I prefer setting the bottle on a flat surface, as it allows you to control the cork and bottle better. The key is to firmly grasp the cork with one hand (best to use a towel) and TURN THE BOTTLE, not the cork, with the other hand. You will find that when you do this, you will feel the cork push itself slowly out of the bottle. Here are detailed instructions, with photographs.