Champagne Holidays: A Guide to Everything There Is to Know
There is one beverage that has won the right to represent peace in a torn and troubled world. It prevails as a universal symbol of unity, promise, and anticipation. It is Champagne.
Created by resilient survivors in a region destroyed by every war since Roman times, born in the French chalk caves that provided the Champagnois refuge through the wars Champagne provides the ultimate drink of luxury, magic, and glamour.
Right now is the time to celebrate every little thing we can. The 2020 holidays may be about peering into the future looking forward to a healthy 2021. Until then, let’s gather with people if we can, celebrate with our families at home, or celebrate virtually with as many people as we can.
Will you have real Champagne at the party?
Yes, if it comes from the Champagne region of France. Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. It only refers to the French wine-producing region of Champagne, France. Hence the name, while sparkling wine comes from all over the world.
International law prohibits sparkling wine from being labeled as Champagne unless it’s made with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes. They must be grown in the chalky soils of Champagne with the wine processed using the Traditional Method, méthode traditionelle sometimes called the méthode classique.
A 100-year loophole in the international law resulted in California’s Korbel, André, and Cooks being grandfathered in and legally labeled Champagne. Those labels had used the same grapes and processing since before 1941 when the law was enacted during the German occupation of France.
What’s your style?
The dryness or sweetness of Champagne designates what food you serve it with and what your preferences are.
Champagne comes in a dozen different sizes but mini bottles are so popular that designers send them down the runways. I think they make great stocking stuffers.
Traditional Champagne food pairings
Popular and more traditional pairings for Brut include steak, French fries, citrus, fried chicken, and white truffles. Blanc de Noirs pair well with all red meat and Blanc de Blancs go well with caviar, oysters, mac & cheese, light fish, and poultry. Many vegetables pair well but the best vegetables include fried mushrooms.
Extra Brut and Brut Nature pair well with lobster and roast chicken. Rosé Champagne pairs with turkey, duck, pizza, crab cakes, spicy food, meaty fish, and cured meats and fish. The sweet Demi-Sec goes nicely with popcorn, spring rolls, potstickers, octopus, and desserts.
Don’t be afraid to break the rules. The things to keep in mind are to drink what you like and to match your choice to the most potent taste of a dish.
Unusual food pairings
Drink Brut with plain glazed and jelly doughnuts and a Demi-Sec for richer and sweeter doughnuts. Demi-sec also pairs with all those buttery holiday cookies.
Corn dogs with Dijon mustard, Pad Thai, Crispy Udon noodles, chili, spring rolls, and potato chips all pair with a Brut or Extra Brut.
Serve with BBQ. Try a BBQ chicken sandwich with caramelized onions topped with a few gorgonzola crumbles. Always use a smoky BBQ sauce and not a hot and spicy sauce.
There’s always Oyster Rockafeller’s and other standard appetizers and party table treats. Stretch your imagination with Sriacha-and wasabi deviled eggs, blue cheese bruschetta, mustard-mascarpone bruschetta, crab ceviche, pistachio-crusted scallops, or small pieces of filet on little sticks.
Caviar is a natural, but a small spoon of caviar sitting in a scooped-out tiny boiled new potato, Blinis bumps it up a notch. Foie gras with crackers or baby toast points is always a favorite pairing but serve it with pea soup for an appetizer.
Start your own holiday tradition with smoked salmon wonton hor d’oeuvres followed by marinated shrimp with Champagne Beurre Blanc appetizers. Serve Beef Wellington or Chateaubriand, French green beans, and a salad of pears, parmesan, candied pecans, and rocket or other greens.
You can substitute pasta with risotto. Pasta sauces match best if they are mushroom or a cream sauce such as Alfredo or carbonara. Add lobster, foie gras, shrimp, or other toppings.
Champagne also pairs well with breakfast foods such as waffles, pancakes, French toast, quiche, and any egg dish including eggs benedict. Try soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers or poached eggs with parmesan and smoked salmon toasts.
Salads can present a problem because of vinegarette dressings. Include cream in a dressing or whisk in some meat juices or use Champagne dressings. Other ideas are spinach and bacon salad with blue cheese dressing, goat’s cheese salad with asparagus or beetroot, asparagus and avocado salad and Thai beef salad, and other Asian salads.
Dessert pairings include anything chocolate, anything strawberry, macaroons, Champagne truffles, macadamia nuts as a garnish, chocolate covered almonds, and espresso beans. Another pairing is Meyer lemon shortcakes with lemon curd and mixed citrus or a float.
Surprise everyone and serve fresh, whole strawberries, adding ladyfingers, and whipped cream. Any fruit and cheese, creamy pear, apple, or apricot tart and mini profiteroles are lovely, or go simple with mango sorbet and almond cookies. A beautiful orange and chocolate panettone from Zia Martina would also be a great addition.
An outrageous fruit dessert includes Champagne poached D’Anjou pears with a dark chocolate fudge sauce. Add miniature scoops of real vanilla bean ice cream.
Other pairing options are Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, and Millefoglie cream cake with red fruits. Try your hand at Sgroppino. Originally a Venetian lemon sorbet with vodka topped with Champagne. Using lemon ice cream, white rum, and Champagne makes it ultra-delicious as a float.
Classic Champagne Cocktail
Elevate your Champagne with a Champagne Cocktail. In a very clean flute drop in a sugar cube and a few dashes of bitters. Brown sugar cubes are especially nice. Pour in Champagne and add a long spiral of lemon zest.
An elegant cranberry-flavor Champagne Cocktail, the Poinsettia includes orange liqueur, cranberry juice, and a Demi-Sec.
The Midnight Sparkler
A festive New Year’s Eve Cocktail, the Midnight Sparkler, is a deep blue cocktail made with crème de violette, clear sanding sugar or edible glitter, clementine or orange juice, lemon juice, gin, Champagne, and a designated driver.
For holiday football, a Black Velvet is perfect. It’s made with two parts Champagne to one-part Guinness. Also, a Southern Comfort Champagne Cocktail made with Southern Comfort and Champagne with a dash of bitters and a lemon peel.
For the Italian in us mix Rosé Champagne, a spoon of lemon sorbet, and citrus vodka for a Lemon Rosé Bellini. Or, a Limoncello Sparkle made with Limoncello, Cointreau, and Champagne with a long, thin piece of lemon peel.
Designed to impress on Valentine’s Day, the French Sparkle Cocktail includes raspberry vodka, mango nectar, Champagne with garnishes of mango slice and black raspberries.
For breakfast, Buck’s Fizz from across the pond is made with one-part orange juice and two-parts chilled Champagne. The American counterpart is the Mimosa made with equal parts of Champagne and orange juice.
Often a little grenadine or apricot brandy is splashed in. In either case, pour the Champagne into your glass first.
Weddings & Baby Showers
For next year’s weddings and baby showers whip up a Champagne cake, bake Champagne cupcakes topped with a Champagne buttercream or try your hand at a Champagne mousse. Add Blushing Bride Champagne Cocktails which are extra fun since they come in at least three flavors. The Peachy Blushing Bride, Sweet Blushing Bride, and the Floral Blushing Bride.
Popsicles & Floats
For the kid in all of us, make strawberry Champagne popsicles or a Blood Orange-Champagne Ice Cream Floats. Use any left-over Champagne, simmer it with sugar, vermouth, Campari, and soda water. After it’s cooled add blood orange sorbet, a slice of orange for garnish, and a swimming pool.
Spritzers, cocktails, and punches use mixers and ice so you should skip the pricey Champagnes. When using ice, consider the Ice Champagnes which also go well with sugar cookies, shortbread, and spritz cookies.
Champagne, charcuterie board, and cheese pairings
If you host a Champagne and cheese party go all out with an eclectic assortment of cheeses. Of course, you can use whole-milk Gouda, Edam, English mild Cheddar, Chevre, Colby, and Taleggio.
You also need the triple creams, full-fat blues, and cheeses with truffles. The driest Champagnes of Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature pair nicely with Brie and Camembert.
The choices are endless. Parmigiano Reggiano, aged Comté, Stilton, mild Pecorino Romano, Asiago, and Fontina also make are great pairings.
The most elegant cheeses are Truffle Tremor, Delice de Bourgnon, and Cambozola. Serve fancy crackers or baguette slices with rich or salty flavors and include gougères with Gruyere cheese, or frozen puff pastry sheets filled with duxelles.
Add Turkish figs to the table, mixed whole olives, nuts, and something chocolate. Wrap pear chunks or shrimp with a thin slice of ham or prosciutto, add tiny crab cakes or coconut shrimp.
Pass on the carrots and celery and explore other crunchy vegetables such as salami on top of a cucumber slice or radishes on buttered rye bread. Extra special is an Endive lettuce leaf holding walnut and blue cheese spread.
The charcuterie board should include various types of dried ham, such as Prosciutto, Bayonne, Serrano, Jambó Ibérico. Add salami, cubes of grilled chicken or steak, and possibly sliders.
The perfect Champagne glass
Wine experts and Champagne houses urge us to rethink flutes and glasses. I recommend you to use glasses with the thinnest lip possible.
The traditional flute preserves the bubbles but does not release the full aroma and is not meant for you to get a good sniff.
The old Hollywood glamour coupe doesn’t preserve the bouquet or effervescence and is the worst glass for Champagne.
The tulip glass is considered your best bet. There’s a large bowl to allow the Champagne to breathe and develop its aroma and tapered at the top to preserve the bubbles.
You can use white wine glasses but not big-bellied glasses. If you have the modern, sleek stemless Champagne glasses save them for the dinner table when they are not held for long periods of time.
Properly store, chill and open Champagne
Store it in a cool, dry place with no light and a humidity of 70% if possible. Only chill the bottle in the fridge for 3-4 hours, remove it and let it sit about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Quick cool it in a bucket of half ice, half water and cover the water with salt. Let only the tops of the bottle show for 20-30 minutes. Don’t put it in the freezer or a snowdrift because it’s too cold. Aim for 43-48° F, 7° C.
It’s best not to use a saber to open the bottle unless you or a guest is an expert. The risks include a totally shattered bottle or glass chards in your glass. Instead, simply remove the foil and wire cage.
Keep the cork pointed in a safe direction, put a towel over the cork, and keep one thumb on the cork just in case. Hold the cork in one hand and the base of the bottle in the other.
Turn the bottle, not the cork, slowly and gently. Never use a corkscrew. Handle each bottle with care since it contains three times the pressure as in a car tire.
One of the greatest joys in life is popping a bottle of luscious Champagne to rejoice with friends and family. We can’t discount the current world situation. Still, it has created more reasons to celebrate little things and there will always be birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Serving Champagne makes any occasion more memorable and a perfect topper to the end of the workday.
Words by Donna Weidinger