Features 2 minutes 08 February 2024

Champagne 101—The Guide to the Perfect Bottle of Bubbly

Classic champagne pairings, the secret behind popping the cork without spilling, and everything in between.

Have you ever struggled finding that perfect bottle of champagne? How about popping a bottle without spilling any of the precious cargo? If you answered yes to either of those questions, we’ve got you covered; because after all, making the perfect night…well, perfect, can be an incredibly daunting task.

That’s why we took it upon ourselves to ask the experts at Wine Access for their secrets to the in’s and out’s for the perfect bottle of bubbly. Below, Amanda McCrossin, the host of Wine Access Unfiltered (their official podcast and wine club), spills the tea on picking the perfect bottle of champagne.

To make it even easier for you, wine and champagne recommendations from the experts at Wine Access can be found either on the site or through the Wine Access’ MICHELIN subscription program. Just be prepared to host the ultimate dinner party from now on.

So, grab your flutes, because this is how to enjoy the perfect bottle of champagne the MICHELIN way.

And in case you missed it, from picking in season produce to the ideal loaf, here’s how the pros do it.

What makes a great champagne?

Like any great wine, the best champagne is one that tells a story and has a point of view. There are lots of really good bottles out there, but the best ones are able to capture what happened in that year and leave an indelible, unforgettable mark on you. 

In 3 words, describe the perfect bottle?

Balanced, indulgent, and effusive.

How does one select a bottle of champagne?

The first main factor is setting. When I’m selecting a bottle, I really try to keep in mind when I’ll be drinking it, with whom, and with what. Vintage champagnes are some of the best quality champagnes out there, but sometimes don’t show the best initially. Conversely, non-vintage Cuvees are designed for almost instant appeal. So, if I’m serving at a party or somewhere where I might not have time to truly appreciate the bottle, that’s what I opt for.

Price is also a big consideration. When the budget doesn’t allow for over $30, I immediately look to another region. It’s almost impossible to get anything of quality for less than that. At the $100 mark, I want to see a single vineyard, vintage, and/or a tete de cuvee on the label.

What should one look for in the perfect glass of bubbly? And the taste?

The bubbles—first and foremost—should be fine and petite. From there, it’s all about balance. There are all types of different champagnes ranging from lean, mineral, and racy to unctuous, rich, and toasty. But a great glass of champagne no matter what will be balanced and leave your palate feeling clean and refreshed.

What are the most common misconceptions about champagne?

That it’s only for celebrating. That it should be served in a coupe or flute. That it’s the same as Prosecco.

What are three champagnes across all price points that everyone should try?

1. A grower champagne like M. Brugnon or Paul Launois. It’s not super common for champagne producers to grow their own grapes. For hundreds of years, champagne houses traditionally purchased their grapes from growers and blended them into broader cuvees It wasn’t until a few years ago that we saw grower champagnes (champagne made by the same people who also grow the grapes) make their way into the market, and they’re one of the best (and often most affordable) ways to experience the differences between various terroirs in the region of champagne.

2. Krug. It’s a classic, and is synonymous with luxury and high-quality, and while not inexpensive, it's not impossible to find.

3. Salon. It’s one of the most expensive champagnes on the planet—it's only made in the best vintages, and painfully hard to get your hands on a bottle—but, it’s one of those champagnes you never forget.

What are some classic champagne pairings perfect for any occasion?

The After-School Special: 

Ruffled potato chips and champagne, (Non-ruffled will do fine too. I’m a huge fan of all the Torres chips flavors, which seem to just work with everything - bonus points for crème fraîche and caviar. Also French onion dip. The acidity of champagne loves anything fried, so you can take this concept and just run with it. From French fries to fried chicken (yes, chicken nuggets work just as well), there is something so perfect about this pairing.

Table for 2:

Rose champagne and a roast chicken. For a decadent night in, light the candles and pop the pink bubbly. Rose champagne has a little more structure and fruit to it that makes savory and textured foods like roast chicken “pop.” Plus, it’s easy and delicious enough to have a glass of before, during, and after dinner.

What’s the trick to popping the cork without spilling any champagne?

Getting it cold! Warm champagne tends to explode more upon opening, thanks to the decreased solubility levels of CO2 in warmer liquid. If you need to get it cold quick, the fastest way to do it is to immerse the bottle in a bucket of ice water with salt or by wrapping a wet paper towel around the bottle and placing it in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes (don’t forget to set a timer!).

Hero image: Wine Access

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