Too much of anything is bad, you might have heard. Too much knowledge, for instance, is dangerous (and boring), so I’m going to keep this short. But as we learnt at the third instalment of our quarterly grand tastings, in agreement with Mark Twain, “Too much of Champagne is just enough.”
One should never take Champagne (and oneself) too seriously. That shouldn’t be construed as saying that Champagne isn’t a serious wine — Champagne arguably rivals those of its highly revered southerly neighbour Burgundy — but nothing comes close to representing the merriment and festivity of joyous occasions as the sound of a bottle of Champagne popping.
Incidentally, popping the cork and letting it fly across the room is just about the worst way to open a bottle of Champagne, hence the saying ‘the ear’s gain is the palate’s loss.’ The atmospheric pressure in the bottle is about thrice that of a car tyre, enough to propel a cork so hard it could potentially cause traumatic injury to the eye — and thereby putting the ‘pain’ in ‘Champagne’. Moreover, you would most definitely lose a significant amount of the bottle’s 49 million bubbles, an estimated figure given by scientist Bill Lembeck based on the average pressure of 5.5 atmospheres (about 80 PSI) of a bottle of Champagne at 20˚C.
A bottle of Champagne, or any sparkling wine for that matter, should be opened with a soft sigh. One way to do it would be to hold the cork firmly in one hand and turn the bottle with the other. In my experience, the best and safest way is to wrap a towel over the bottle, then grip the neck over the towel with one hand and turn the cork with the other until it comes off. This way, even if you lose your grip of the cork, the towel would prevent it from shooting into the air.
Use a white wine glass instead of a flute to serve your bubbly in. The bigger bowl allows for more aromatics to develop, and your sensory enjoyment of the drink will be enhanced.
Although the size of the bubbles may hint at the quality of the wine, it should never be taken at face value. There are too many factors that influence the formation of bubbles: from residual soap and grease stains to dust particles left over from the cloth you used to polish the glassware. It has also been demonstrated that a glass prepared in a clean room, free from any deposits, will not allow a bubble to form.
One final thing you must know: While in casual conversation, Champagne is often synonymous with sparkling wine, the name ‘Champagne’ can only be used legally to refer to sparkling wine made in the delimited appellation of Champagne in France. Sparkling wines elsewhere are called by different names — Cremant, Sekt, Cava, Spumante and so on.
When you do buy a bottle or two from our recommendations, remember also that sparkling wine is gender-biased — if you want a good mousse in your glass, don’t wear lipstick; it contains an anti-foaming agent that will prevent bubbles from forming.
Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvee Brut NV
Beam Global Asia $55
Stone fruit, lemon, pear, cream and biscuit on the nose. Medium-bodied; vigorous, smooth mousse. Slightly chalky, dry and balanced. Ripe, buttery and long finish.
Hardys Crest Sparkling Cuvee 2008
Auric Pacific $30
Fresh nose of melon, grape, rambutan and white pear. White peach and pear on the palate; high acidity, simple and straightforward.
Brown Brothers Zibibbo NV
Some white flowers and jasmine; like a morning in spring. Quite uplifting with good complexity. Well-balanced, fresh and floral.
Champagne Palmer Blanc de Blancs 2004
Slightly more mature nose; lemon, apple, biscuit, daisy, a touch of smokiness. Slightly assertive mousse with baked apple on the palate. Dry, balanced and lively with nice weight and a ripe long finish. Of carefree days and long evenings.
Pommery Summertime Brut NV
Rich nose of smoked oyster, bonbon, pipe tobacco and musky cellar. Assertive mousse with ripe, peachy flavours. Nice complexity and length with a dry, ripe finish. Creamy mousse. Super hot and sexy.
Champagne Moet Chandon Grand Vintage Blanc 2002
Moet Hennessey Diageo $125
Lemon rind, yellow fruit, Chinese pear and florals with slightly nutty and toasty nuances. Good complexity and balance with high acidity and a dry, fine, long finish.
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut Vintage 1998
Beam Global Asia $216.50
Baked apple, vanilla and honeyed nose with some floral nuances. Elegant and voluptuous. Well-balanced with nice fruit intensity and good balance. Medium-bodied with a dry, long finish.
Accademia dei Vinattieri Moscato Spumante NV
Fresh and upbeat, refreshing and zesty. Beautiful, smooth texture, nice sweetness with acidity to balance. Well-made, delicate and enjoyable.
Ca’del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige NV
Crystal Wines $84
Characters of lemon, apple, almond, chalk, smoke and pear. Somewhat herbal. Balanced with ripe fruit on the palate. Dry, long and fresh.
Ca’del Bosco Franciacorta Dosage Zero 2005
Crystal Wines $117
Nutty, toasty, yeasty, biscuity nose with stone fruit. Medium-bodied, and a creamy palate with lovely coffee and pear character. Ripe, dry finish.