Drink, Features

Bucket list: 10 things you never knew about champagne

Inspired by the Kettner’s Townhouse Champagne Bar and our New York wine club’s ‘champagne showers’, we ask our experts what makes the French fizz special

1 Champagne is always fermented in the bottle
While prosecco is fermented in stainless-steel tanks, champagne must be fermented in special strong bottles. It is then flipped upside-down to drive the sediment into the neck, and dipped into a special liquid to freeze it. When the bottle is turned the right way around, the sediment is disgorged (expelled) and the cork can be added.

2 Vintage champagnes are creamier
A vintage champagne uses grapes from a single year’s harvest and spends a minimum of three years on the yeast. “This gives it a creamier, more complex flavour with elegant bubbles – but also makes it more expensive to produce,” explains wine club organiser Laura Carlisi, who held her first champagne shower at Soho House New York in March, guiding members through the Moët portfolio.

3 Non-vintage champagnes are most consistent
“The beauty of a non-vintage is that it is always the same style because theyare allowed to mix different vintages to achieve consistency,” says our master sommelier Vincent Gasnier. “Sometimes buying a non-vintage is more reassuring because if you bought a light and crispy Pommery or a yeasty and complex Ruinart five years ago, if you buy another today it will have the same style.”

4 It has to be served ultra cold
“The temperature of champagne is very important because the colder it is the more refreshing it feels,” says Vincent. Fridges in the Kettner’s champagne bar are set to 4C (39F).

5 Flute or coupe? It depends
Flutes are good for dry (mainly non-vintage) styles of champagne because they keep the temperature cold for longer, making for a refreshing drink that is not too sharp. Creamier, more complex vintage styles are more enjoyable in a coupe, which gives them a slightly warmer temperature and more space for their slower-moving bubbles to develop.

6 Champagne is great with food
“People forget that champagne is not just a drink for a party,” says Vincent. “Its freshness and complexity makes it fabulous with food, especially salty, spicy or seafood dishes that need a wine with high acidity to counterbalance them.”

7 Champagne can be biodynamic
Vincent gives the example of Drappier, a brut nature champagne that is made with no added sugar: “From a family-owned house, it’s organic, biodynamic, small production and has a lovely yeasty, savoury flavour that lingers a long time. The bubbles are very subtle because they are kept for three years on the yeast.”

8 Bigger brands aren’t always better
“We have some amazing champagnes at Kettner’s Townhouse, from Bollinger to Dom Perignon. But if I wanted to be really posh I would go for Salon, which is a very small champagne house, very iconic and hard to get. It’s expensive but absolutely outstanding,” says Vincent.

9 Most champagne corks have three layers
It is possible for champagne to be corked, which is why Soho House waiters are trained to ask guests to taste the wine before serving, Laura Carlisi explains. However this is rare, because champagne producers use carefully layered stoppers with very high-quality cork on the outside. 

10  There is 6kg of pressure in each bottle
That’s as much as a bus tyre. To open it without taking someone’s eye out, remove the foil and loosen the cage. Tilt the bottle at a 30-degree angle and grip the cork and bottle. Turn the bottle and then, holding the cork steady, ease it slowly out of the bottle. The gas pressure should be released with a quiet “phut”.

Vincent Gasnier has arranged a UK House Tonic trip to Champagne in spring 2018. Speak to your bars manager or P&D rep to sign up.

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