7.5 Common Mistakes People Make With Champagne
27th January 2020
There are many guidelines as to how one should enjoy Champagne, for instance a quick search on Google for a question like ‘how to taste champagne‘ brings up no less than 99,500,000 results!
My tasting notes show that I have tasted over 2,000 different Champagnes in the last five years or so, this will have involved many different ways in which I have enjoyed them with many great memories and yet I have also been party to some very wrong ways in which the wine was presented.
So if I concentrate on the mistakes made when it comes to Champagne, I thought I would add both the most common as well as the more important ones which we must try to avoid.
Here are 7.5 common mistakes that people make with Champagne and yes it is .5 because I believe one of the mistakes is really only worth half a mention:
- 1: Storage – There are many factors that can affect the quality of the Champagne when it is still in the bottle and being stored away for later such as temperature, movement and light. It is very important to try and keep Champagne stored at a constant temperature and where there is little movement and light especially if you do not plan to open the bottle any time soon. Do not just stick the bottle of Champagne in to that home wine rack that may be positioned near to the oven or radiator and exposed to natural and artificial light as these factors can turn the wine bad.
- 2: Over paying – It is usually thought that the more you pay, the better you get, but that’s not always the case when it comes to Champagne. It is worth noting that the bigger names we are all familiar with will generally be costly because of their brand awareness, ie you are paying for the name, and you’ll get just as good quality in the bottle from taking up those cheaper Champagne labels that appear in the likes of Aldi / Lidl for under a tenner. There are thousands of Champagne labels and the best way to learn more about them and maybe spot something that performs well in your price range is by a little bit of research online and seeing what others think / recommend.
- 3: Opening the bottle – It’s your bottle of Champagne so who should be telling you how to open it? If you want to shake the bottle and pop that cork with a spray of fizz clouding the air around you then it’s your right to do so (though please note that more people die each year from a flying cork than from venomous snake bites). But (a sentence beginning with ‘but’, sorry!) this form of opening Champagne not only wastes what you could be drinking, it is also messing with the wine itself by losing bubbles, aromas and flavours as well as mixing sediments if the bottle is an older vintage label. The best way to open Champagne is from a bottle that has been laid down for a few hours and chilled (8-10°C). Use caution when unscrewing the wire cage and ideally keep a hand over the top so as to avoid any flying corks (usage of a towel is also advised). When you uncork the bottle the best way is slowly so that you hear a mere whisper from the gas escaping rather than a popping sound.
- 4: Being impatient – We all get excited when we see a bottle of Champagne being opened, we just want to simply rush in and enjoy those bubbles. A tiny bit of patience is always a good thing especially for the finer Champagnes as there are many aromas and flavours to experience and simply gulping the Champagne down means you might miss out the finer points which no doubt the winemaker would have spent many hours to have shared with you…
- 5: Not reading or understanding the label – Lots of people new to Champagne will think there is only but one style. Yes, many will know that you can get pink / rosé Champagne too, but what most fail to realise is that you can get different styles of Champagne that offer very different flavours, from what sugar content has been added to the grapes which have been used. A common mistake some people make is buying a Champagne that is too sweet, such as a Sec or Doux, simply because they have picked up what they read as ‘Champagne’ and failed to take notice of all the other bits of information each bottle will contain. Take time to read up on the different styles of Champagne, the most common is Brut, and if you want to take things a little further then why not learn how regions and grapes can effect flavours and aromas.
- 6: How you hold your glass – I never really paid much attention to this fact until it was pointed out to me that I was holding my glass incorrectly. “So there’s a way you should be holding your glass let alone how you should store, pour and drink Champagne!” I said. Now I clearly identify with this mistake and usually point it out to others when I see them holding the glass wrong. You should hold the glass by the stem and not hold the bowl, pinching the stem with your thumb on one side and fingers on the other. The heat from your hand will transfer to the glass when you hold the bowl which will warm up the Champagne in the glass.
- 7: Sabering incorrectly – I have now opened Champagne via saber quite a few times and (touch wood!) I have yet to encounter any problems. Many sabering accidents I have seen happen simply because the person sabering does not go about it the right way. A bottle of Champagne, is in fact, an explosive item since it holds lots of pressure bursting to get out and the container of this fizzy Champagne is glass so putting these two things together means we do in fact have quite a dangerous combination. Do not simply hack at the bottle, instead there are guidelines for sabering a bottle of Champagne which includes telling you exactly where you should be striking the bottle and the correct angle you should be using etc.
- 7.5: Temperature – Here is my half point as the temperature when serving is something that can be moved around a lot depending on your preferences. It is agreed that Champagne should be served chilled as mentioned, though when it comes to drinking it, some people prefer it to reach room temperature so it can express aromas and flavours better. Champagne is enjoyable when chilled, but everyone will have varied opinions on what the perfect tasting temperature is and some will prefer a few degrees warmer for certain Champagnes.
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.