It’s the holiday season! This means friends and family, gifts, dinners, and sparkling wine. And it also means opening and serving that sparkling wine, a task many dread. But with a few tips and pointers on how to store and serve Champagnes and sparklers, the fear of presentation should dissipate quickly.
1) Proper storing and serving temperature.
Sparkling wines are typically consumed young, but can be aged for sometimes more than a decade. If you are interested in cellaring, keep the bottles cool (40-60 degrees Fahrenheit works perfectly). They do not need to be stored in a cellar or storage space on their sides. The pressure of the carbon dioxide in the bottle is sufficient to maintain the cork’s moisture level, so bottles can be stored upright.
Sparkling wines in general should be served at 42 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 5.5 degrees Celsius. Of course, if you and your guests prefer a warmer or cooler temperature, feel free to adjust this figure… it’s just a guideline. This temperature can be achieved by placing the bottle in a bucket with ice water for about 15 minutes, or 10 minutes if you add a little salt to the ice water.
2) Proper glassware.
Tall, thin flutes (Champagne glasses) show off the fine bubbles that will emerge upon pouring a sparkling wine. These glasses, though not necessary, make the best presentation. If you don’t have these available, don’t worry… regular wine glasses do the trick just fine. And if you’re not getting nice effervescent ribbons streaming elegantly up from the bottom of the glass, here’s a tip: take a razor blade or sharp knife and scratch a little “x” on the inside of the glass directly on top of the stem. Bubbles form when they encounter imperfections on the glass surface, so a very smooth glass may have difficulty generating them.
3) Proper technique.
Opening a bottle of bubbly is actually quite easy. Remove the foil by pulling the little foil or plastic tab near the neck of the bottle to reveal the cork in its wire cage. With your thumb on the top of the wire cage, use your other hand to untwist the wire. Do this with the cork pointed away from you and your guests… the bottle is under up to 5 atmospheres of pressure, which can shoot a cork out with enough velocity to cause some damage! Remove your thumb and the wire cage, then grip the cork with one hand and the bottle with the other. Turn the bottle, not the cork, which gives you greater control over the release of the cork so your bottle won’t emit a shocking “pop” upon opening. Pour for ladies first if you’d like to be extra polite.
4) Proper timing and pairing.
Champagnes and sparkling wines make excellent aperitifs and great accompaniments to appetizers. But a Pinot Noir-based or similar bubbly is also a nice complement to pizza, steak, or a rich poultry dish; a lighter sparkler is perfect with a salad. Be creative with your combinations. And though champagne restoppers exist and can keep a sparkling wine in good condition for a couple of days, in my opinion, it’s better to drink the bottle when you open it.
With these simple guidelines you will never have to worry again about the presenting and serving of your favorite Champagne or sparkling wine. And practice makes perfect, so start opening those bottles as soon as possible!
Sarah Trubnick, Sommelier