There are champagnes and there are champagnes – just like with other types of drinks, champagnes differ from one another in taste and it’s a good idea to try at least few to find the one that will become our favorite. For that purpose it’s the best to go to a professionally organized tasting. How should it go?
There are plenty of legends and stereotypes for champagne – and, as is usually the case, most of them have little to do with reality. Let’s start by saying that many people in Poland don’t even have an idea what a real champagne is, incorrectly putting an equal sign between a noble drink from Champagne with a low quality sparkling wine from a supermarket. Meanwhile, an original champagne differs from it significantly in taste and quality. It also doesn’t mean that every product bearing that name is the same as the others.
Despite the differences, champagnes also have several significant shared traits. First thing: this name can only be put on the drinks manufactured in Champagne, which is one of the regions in France. Beside that, an important factor that separates champagne from a „regular” sparkling wine is the way the bubbles are created. Contrary to the layman belief, carbon dioxide is not pressed in. The bubbles in champagne are created in a natural way, which is with the aging of wine. In order for that to happen, the wine is already stored in bottles – it takes place in cellars where the temperature is 3-5 degrees and it takes at least 2 years.
How to organize a champagne tasting? This noble drink has to be served in special coolers – they’re usually made of stainless steel, sometimes even silver-plated, or even made entirely out of silver. One has to remember that such way of serving alcohol is not just dictated by the elegant look of the vessel, but also by practical issues – precious metals are great at maintaining temperature. We serve champagne at temperature of around 6-8 degrees. There are special, long glasses made just for that, the shape of which prevents the bubble from getting out too soon. We should also remember about the proper etiquette: first we serve the drinks to women and elders. We should also provide our guests with water to flush the glasses and mouths with, as well as a vessel to dump this water into. Wine should be poured up to the third of the glass’s height. It makes it easier to spin the contents around, which brings out the aroma and flavor.
A pretty controversial trait of tasting to many is spitting the wine out to a special vessel. This rules has a practical justification, though – it allows us to evaluate the successive drinks with the same attention and with an unchanged state of mind. Obviously, no one can make us spit out the wine in the event that the tasting was not meant for professionals, and its results don’t bear any particularly serious consequences.
There are several different types of tasting. There are sometimes „blind” tastings – the wines have their labels obscured and the participants know nothing about them. The remaining tastings can be split into vertical and horizontal ones. A vertical one has tasting the same wine from different years. A horizontal one, on the other hand, can use any key, or the product’s trait, such as the region, the manufacturer, the year or the grape variety used to make the tasted drinks.
A drink tasting follows the rule of „three kisses” – that’s because we use three different sense to evaluate a champagne. First of them is sight. First we have to take a look at the wine in our glass. The participants should pay attention to such traits as the color. It’s a good idea to see if the drink’s surface is shiny and the drink itself is clear (it shouldn’t be oily or rainbow opalescent – it could mean it’s oxidized). Doesn’t it have any extraneous matter or pollution (such as pieces of the cork)? How fast do the bubbles leave? Tinier bubbles that leave the drink slower indicate a high class of the champagne.
Another part of tasting is evaluating the aroma. How the wine smells indicates its place of origin, class and age. When using the scent of smelling we should use the three stages: we sniff the wine in a still glass, then we spin the vessel in order to release the heavier tones of aroma, and finally we stir the champagne intensively, finding out all of its aromas this way.
The last stage of tasting is using the sense of taste. We do it by taking a small amount of the drink in our mouths, then we inhale air in order to oxygenate it. By moving our tongue, we’re able to evaluate the wine’s sweetness, as well as acid and tannin content. When it comes to champagne, like with other wines, the key is the harmony, or the balance of its flavor. An important issue is also the „length” of the wine (also called the finish or the aftertaste), which is how long we can taste it in our mouth. In order not to get the tasting disrupted by anything, right before it it’s better not to eat any food (especially of intense, characteristic taste). During the testing we can have something to eat between successive champagnes, but it should be neutral products such as baguette or unsalted crackers.