WASHINGTON — Pass a glass and pop the cork: Oct. 19 is Global Champagne Day — as if one needs an excuse to drink the bubbly beverage.
Yes, similar to pancakes, pizza and hugs, Champagne has a spot on the calendar of made-up holidays — and we’re OK with it. In fact, we’re embracing it with some fun facts, tips and recommendations from an expert.
It’s a wine and a region
There’s nothing generic about Champagne. When it comes to the carbonated wine, the “c” is capitalized for a reason: Champagne is a region in northeast France where it is made.
“And legally, nothing can be called Champagne unless it is produced in Champagne,” said Moez Ben Achour, sommelier and general manager of Marcel’s, a restaurant by chef Robert Wiedmaier on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C.
There are a handful of “Champagne houses” that make the bubbly beverage — Moët & Chandon, Laurent-Perrier, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin are some of the more popular brands — as well as a number of small growers and producers.
Experts say the region’s climate and soil (a makeup of chalk, marl and limestone) help shape the structure and flavor of Champagne; a strict production method, called Méthode Champenoise, keeps the wine uniform and unique from other sparkling varieties.
The great grapes
Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the most popular grapes used to make Champagne. However, pinot blanc, pinot gris, petit meslier and arbane are also permitted for Champagne production. Vintage denotes a wine made from grapes harvested in the same year; nonvintage means grapes from different years were mixed.
Just like still wine, different brands and bottles have different flavor profiles. That is why Ben Achour recommends describing the types of wine you like to a server, sommelier or wine seller when deciding on a bottle. And don’t be afraid to ask for a taste before making your purchase.
“Some of them have high acidity, some of them have a good balance of structure, some of them have a longer finish,” he said.
Forget the flutes
Here’s some good news for your crowded kitchen cabinets: You can get rid of those fancy flutes. Ben Achour said white wineglasses work best for sipping on Champagne.
“You have more space, the Champagne can breathe more in there and you get all the aromatics you’re looking for,” he added.
John Salangsang/Invision/AP/John Salangsang
Let’s talk money
Because Champagne comes from one small region and is so regulated, it costs more than most sparkling wines. But you don’t need to completely break the bank for a quality experience: Ben Achour said you can find a quality Champagne for around $35 or $40. (WTOP wine contributor Scott Greenberg has a few recommendations between $28 and $60.)
Of course, if you have the desire and the ability to spend more, you can find plenty above that price point, too.
If Champagne is not within your budget, Ben Achour recommends Crémant, another French wine that uses a production technique that’s similar to Champagne, but costs half the price. There’s also cava, a sparkling wine from Spain, and prosecco, from Italy.
(Getty Images for LACMA/John Sciulli)
Getty Images for LACMA/John Sciulli
Time to celebrate
At Marcel’s Ben Achour oversees a 16-page wine list, much of which includes Champagne. So naturally, he’s celebrating Global Champagne Day at the restaurant with Champagne flights, desserts and even a Champagne attendant, who will wear a towering dress made of glasses.
Can’t make it out? Celebrate at home, instead. Whip up Emeril Lagasse’s “ chicken with Champagne and 40 cloves of garlic,” some Champagne risotto, or a chocolate Champagne trifle in your own kitchen. (Click the links for the recipes.)
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