Champagne is a variety of sparkling wine hailing from the Champagne region of north-eastern France. It's made from specific varieties of grapes: mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. But how does it actually taste? And the real question: how do you know if you will like it?
Champagne typically has dominant notes of citrus, almond and green fruit, as well as floral and sometimes herbal flavors. It can also have a creamy taste and texture, and is famously effervescent (hence the nickname, "bubbly"). The celebratory drink has a moderate amount of alcohol (averaging 12.2%) and varying sweetness levels ranging from Brut Nature to Doux, Sweet, or Dulce.
In this article, we'll look at the varying tastes of Champagne, several ways you can serve it (yes, there's more than one!) and give you some tips on how to figure out if it's a drink you will enjoy.
I will also help you understand the differences between cheap and expensive Champagne—it might surprise you to learn that pricier is not always better!
How would I describe the taste of Champagne?
Champagne is a bubbly drink with a highly acidic taste and a light body. When you first taste Champagne, there is a burst of citrus, peach, cherry, or grape flavors married with nutty and toasty flavors. Hints of almond and brioche are also present due to aging on the lees. Often, there is a fine, creamy mousse-like texture too (which is actually a part of the experience).
You can tell you're drinking quality Champagne when there is a velvety mouthfeel with a rich aroma of citrus, almond, and cream harmonized with effervescent bubbles. In addition, there is a subtle aroma of grapes, depending on the variety used.
The choice of grapes include:
- Chardonnay grapes: Known as the ultimate grapes, these have a citrus white flower and lime blossom aroma. This gives Champagne its freshness and finesse.
- Pinot Noir grapes: These grapes add a complex flavor and body to the Champagne with an aroma of peonies, violets, and cherry fruit.
- Pinot Meunier: This grape has floral and fruity notes with an aroma of fresh strawberries.
Levels of sweetness in Champagne
During its secondary fermentation, varying levels of sweetness can be added to the Champagne. You can assess the level of sugar by checking the terminology used on the bottle's label.
- Brut Nature: Just up to three grams of sugar are added per liter, meaning there is little to no sugar in this wine.
- Extra Brut: This wine will have up to 6 grams of sugar and it is slightly sweeter but still considered to be quite dry.
- Brut: This is the most popular albeit a fairly dry Champagne. Brut may have up to 12 grams of sugar per liter.
- Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra Seco: Sweeter than brut, these wines have 12 to 17 grams of sugar per liter.
- Dry, Sec, Seco: Although it is labeled as “dry,” seco is considerably sweeter than brut and may contain between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per liter.
- Demi-Sec, Demi-Seco: A sweeter Champagne, this one has about 32 to 50 grams of sugar in a liter.
- Doux, Sweet, Dulce: These Champagnes are the sweetest, and have 50 or more grams in a liter.
Depending on the grapes used, Champagnes can also be classified using the following terms:
- Blanc de Blanc: This refers to Champagne produced entirely from white grapes, usually 100% Chardonnay.
- Blanc de Noirs: This is a wine produced from 100% black grapes like Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
- Rosé: This expensive pink Champagne is made by mixing red grapes and white grapes. Sometimes, skin contact is also used to create rosé Champagne.
Cheap vs expensive Champagne
Is the higher price tag on an expensive Champagne bottle worth it? Well, not always. But there are a few notable differences between an expensive bottle by a luxury brand like Dom Pérignon or Veuve Clicquot, and a cheap bottle of Champagne.
One key difference between cheap and expensive Champagne is the bubbles: the bubbles in an expensive Champagne keep streaming up until the last sip.
Why? It's all down to the process:
- The specific process of making quality Champagne ensures that CO2 from the yeast can't escape and stays dissolved in the drink, producing consistent bubbles. Plus, the bubbles are relatively smaller and more effervescent too.
- In contrast, a cheap sparkling wine is made similarly to carbonated soft drinks where CO2 is simply injected into the wine. This creates big, inconsistently sized bubbles that dissolve quickly.
There is a difference in taste as well. Expensive Champagne has a more complex flavor with pleasing fruity and floral notes. Even the subtle tastes of vanilla, peach, lemon, and honeysuckle are more apparent.
In contrast, a cheaper Champagne can have sweeter, smoother, and generally less complex flavors.
Why do people like Champagne?
People like Champagne for its taste as well as its effect. It is also associated with luxury, which makes it the go-to drink for the rich and affluent.
Another reason people like Champagne is that it's the drink of choice for celebrations. It has always been marketed as a special drink for special occasions.
And it's super bubbly! When you open the bottle, it pops, which makes for a really fun celebratory experience.
Who might not like Champagne?
You might have heard that Champagne is an 'acquired taste'. There's some truth to this, because people often don't immediately like it on their first sip, but can grow to appreciate it over time.
So if you've never tried alcoholic drinks before, you might not enjoy Champagne as a first timer. Unless it's a very sweet variety, don't expect your first sip to be too palatable.
It is a highly acidic drink, and the bubbles can also be felt strongly in your mouth and throat. So, if you're someone who doesn't like super fizzy drinks, you might not enjoy the electric sensation of drinking Champagne either.
How is Champagne usually served?
Champagne is ideally served cold at 8-10°C (47-50°F). The proper temperature is essential: if it's too cold, it will numb the tastebuds; too warm and the texture and flavor will be ruined.
The best glass for serving this drink is the traditional Champagne flute. This tall, narrow glass helps preserve the carbonation for the longest time. The right practice is to fill only one-third of the glass. Otherwise, the Champagne can get warm too quickly.
The pouring style is another important aspect of serving Champagne. If poured incorrectly, it can lose its bubbly and distinctive taste.
Champagne is often enjoyed on its own and as a celebratory drink, it can be served on any occasion. However, it's also present in many well-known cocktails, and of course can be mixed with orange juice to create everybody's brunch favorite: the mimosa!
Food pairings for Champagne
As a white sparkling wine, you can pair different Champagne varieties with foods like cheeses, lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, salmon and poultry.
Champagne also pairs beautifully with sushi, or salty snacks as it cleanses the palate. Oily, fatty, and salty foods also complement the fruity, fresh taste of wine. So, you can even enjoy it with tacos, burgers, fried chicken, and cheese.
Another great option is to finish a fancy meal with a glass of Champagne. Thanks to its palate-cleansing properties, Champagne makes an excellent digestif. You can also pair sweet sparkling wines with desserts like gelato or ice cream for a decadent end to your meal.
So, will you like Champagne?
Although Champagne can be an acquired taste, it is a unique and delicious beverage that is perfect for special occasions.
I'm a fan of sparkling wines in general and I really love Champagne. But even if you don't think you'll like it, there are so many different ways to experience sparkling wine: you can serve it at parties, during special dinners, or by itself to take in all of its complex flavor profiles.
Or maybe cocktails are more your style. Champagne cocktails are the perfect mix of bubbles, fruit juice, spirits, and other tasty ingredients. Both fruity and sophisticated, these cocktails are fun to make and even more fun to drink.
For those who love the idea of sparkling wine or are keen to add a little luxury to their lives, sampling Champagne is a must! You just need to experiment with Champagne to find a way that suits your personal taste.