Not all bottles of bubbly are created equal. While many of us may think we're sipping Champagne, the only true Champagne comes out of a region of the same name in France. "They handpick the best grapes that they can grow," says Joe Minotti, owner of Minotti's Wine and Liquor, which has five locations throughout Northeast Ohio. "They're top-notch without blemishes, whereas other 'champagnes' will use secondary grapes." Prosecco and cava, while tasty, don't have bubbles that are quite as fine as Champagne because they're often made in large tanks, like other sparkling wines.
Champagne can be used for more than just toasting. It can amp up your next meal (if there's any left from last night's festivities). Try this easy fondue recipe from Table 45's executive chef Donna Chriszt.
"Fondue is old school, but it's easy to cook and you can utilize it in many different ways with pierogies, chicken or pork," Chriszt says. Start by reducing 1 quart of heavy cream with 1 cup of flat, white sparkling wine over the stove until it thickens. Then add 1 cup of ground Parmesan, 1 cup of grated Beemster cheese and 1 cup of grated Swiss cheese until they melt together. Follow with 1 cup of Brie. When it's melted, remove the rind and add 1/4 cup of chopped rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper. "The Champagne just adds a whole new layer of flavor," she says. "The acidity offsets the saltiness of the cheese that you're using."
We know good bubbly is hard to come by so we asked Yolanda Albergottie, a wine educator from Chuck's Fine Wines in Chagrin Falls, for recommendations at different price points.
Bottle on a Budget: Graham Beck Brut Rose Non Vintage, $18.99
Made with South African chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, this sparkling wine tries to be a serious bubbly but at an affordable price. "This has a beautiful yeasty, doughy nose, and it has nice cherry and berry notes to it," Albergottie says.
Sparkling Special: Schramsberg The Blanc de Noirs, 2010, $37.99
This sparkling white wine made from red pinot noir grapes grown in Napa takes the cake. "Schramsberg was the very first producer of sparkling wine in America," says Albergottie. "It tends to be a little bit more fruit and berry, and it has a lot more peach, apricot, mango and tropical fruit notes to it."
Top Shelf: Dom Ruinart, The Blanc de Blancs, 2004, $175.99
Crafted by the first established Champagne house in history, this chardonnay-centric Champagne is made from grapes grown in a stony soil, giving it a lot of minerality. "The flavors are more biscuity, more floral and almost nutty," she says.
If you want to give your guests an eye-popping surprise, try sabering off the top of the bottle by aiming it away from you as you slide a thick blade (you can use a butcher's knife) along the side of the glass in one swift motion, cutting it off at the neck. "There is more pressure in a bottle of Champagne than there is in your car tire, so the energy bottled up in that bottle of Champagne can be fierce," says Dina Kostis, general manager at Pickwick and Frolic and its Champagne Bar, which has 65 varieties of Champagne and sparkling wine. "You cannot hesitate, you have to go all in. If you do it correctly, it should pop right off."How to Saber off the Top off a Champagne Bottle
Tools you need:
1 bottle of Champagne
1 substantial knife
- Remove the foil from the top of the Champagne bottle.
- Hold the knife in your dominant hand, while cupping the Champagne bottle firmly with the other hand, aiming it away so that the cork is not facing anyone.
- Undo the cage at the top and move it up to the closest lip where you would typically pour the Champagne from and tighten the cage, allowing the cork to have enough room to pop.
- Look for the seam in the glass that runs from the bottom of the bottle to the top of the neck. Typically, this seam can be found on the facing side where the label is. Take the knife and press firmly on the bottom of the seam. Slide the knife with full force in one swift motion, following the seam all the way up the bottle until the knife blade hits the neck.
- If done correctly, the neck of the bottle will break off along with the cork and shoot out away from you.
Champagne should always be served chilled — but not cold. "If it's too cold, you don't get the true, natural flavors of the lemon or the citrus or whatever the Champagne house is trying to drive in that Champagne," says Gary Rossen, president of Rozi's Wine House in Lakewood. Set Champagne in the fridge for two to three hours, but if you find yourself with unexpected guests, 20-25 minutes in an ice bath should do the trick.