Wine Party of the Month: Champagne Holiday Cocktail Soirée

Glasses of champagne with gold ribboned gifts

Who doesn’t love a good wine party? We think wine parties are the best way to learn about wine, and wine for food. With that in mind, we bring you Wine Party of the Month, a monthly article detailing wine and food recommendations from one wine varietal or region. Each article suggests three categories of wine that will pair beautifully with food (seasonal recipes included). All wines are likely to be found in your local wine shop for a range of prices. Grab your friends, take our recommendations, and throw your own Wine Party of the Month! Be sure to take pictures and tag us @Wine_4_Food.

It’s holiday time! With office parties, friend soirees, and family festivities abound, how do we find time to throw a party of our own? Here’s how. Keep it short. Serve small bites. And choose Champagne!

We have designed a cocktail get together that works as a post-work and a pre-other-party party. Or simply invite your friends by for a couple of quick glasses of bubbly before their midnight online shopping spree. We’ve also included good, less expensive bottles for those who don’t want to break the bank ($35-$50/bottle).



What’s so exciting about Champagne? Well, in my opinion, everything. It tastes incredible on its own. It’s perfect all day long (think brunch, midday pool treat, cocktail hour, apéritif, dinner, dessert, late night—it all works). It’s sexy, sophisticated, dresses everything up, and feels like a million bucks.

It’s also made with impeccable care, strictly regulated, and crafted by experts. Champagne is sparkling wine from the historic province of Champagne, France. Governed by European law and the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC), Champagne is produced and manufactured in the or the méthode traditionnelle (traditional method) which includes a two-step fermentation process. Making Champagne is complicated and precise, but here is the gist. First, a dry and acidic still wine base is created, much like other wines and blended to achieve the desired flavors (from other vintages and plots). Next, the wine is topped off with tirage. This wine, sugar, and yeast mixture is used to varying amounts to balance the acidity of the base wine. More importantly, the tirage is added to encourage the second fermentation process which occurs within each bottle. In the bottles, yeast consumes the sugar and releases alcohol and carbon dioxide. Voila…bubbles. The wine is aged from 15 months to many years. After the aging process, the yeast sediment is moved to the neck of the bottle through a process called riddling, it’s then frozen, and discarded. The final bottle of sparkling wine can then be topped off with sweet liqueur known as dosage aka liqueur d’expedition. All of this is why Champagne is so expensive. And worth it.

For more on Champagne 101, see “Take a Sip of The Devil’s Wine, aka Champagne.”

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What you need to know about Champagne

• All true Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France
• The region’s soil is predominantly limestone producing a mineral flavor
• Made primarily of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
• Bubbles are created in a second fermentation process that occurs inside each bottle
• Aged in extra thick bottles to protect the wines from exploding
• All Champagne must be aged at least 15 months
• Most non-vintage Champagnes are brut (dry)
• Cuvée means first pressed and is the best juice. These are matured for at least three years.
• Amazing with food. Its high acid content, crisp and clean flavor, and bubbles cleanse the palate. It matches delicate food and cuts through buttery bites.
• Pairs well with breakfast foods, poultry, lobster, foie gras, caviar, sushi, fried foods, and light baked goods such as buttery cookies and apple tarts.

Champagne Tasting Note

Champagne is generally medium-bodied and light gold in color with tight, rising bubbles. Typical aromas are of stone fruit, apple, honey, brioche, and toast. On the palate, Champagne flavors are often citrus, white flower, honey, green apple, bread, yeast, biscuit, and caramel (if it has been aged in barrels). Acid is high, and sweetness ranges from:

Brut Nature: Dry, with no added dosage
Extra Brut: Bone dry, topped off with wine only
Brut: Dry, topped off with dosage
Extra Dry: Medium dry, topped off with progressively more dosage
Sec: Medium sweet, increasing levels of dosage
Demi-sec: Fairly sweet, increasing levels of dosage
Doux (or Rich): Sweet, increasing levels of dosage

Since this is a cocktail party, everything goes with everything. But we have identified three groups of our Champagnes that pair extraordinarily well with specific bites. We have also found three less expensive Champagnes that do a beautiful job on a budget.


michel_gonet_brut_nature_closeupFIRST CHAMPAGNE: 2004 Michel Gonet Champagne Brut Nature

We are tasting bone-dry high-acid with this little number. Burnt sugar, crème brûlée, brioche, and hefty on the palate, this Champagne will cut through the richness of the salmon, the lobster, and the fried potatoes in these canapés (our nod to latkes).

LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION: Champagne Pannier Brut Selection ($35)

Gaining 91 points from Wine Spectator, this Champagne has won many International Wine Challenge awards and is served on board Air France. It’s an easygoing crisp palate cleanser tasting of fresh green apple and honey. Try it with the salmon and lobster dishes. It will stand up to their butteriness, and leave you wanting more.

FOOD: Try Tiny Urban Kitchen’s Citrus Marinated SalmonEpicurious’s Lobster Salad on Cucumber Slices, and Earth Delights Blog’s Bite-Sized Potato-Apple Pancake Canapés.
 

SECOND CHAMPAGNE: 2009 Michel Gonet Champagne Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs means white wine made with red grapes. In this case, the 100% pinot noir grapes offer aromas of ripe berry, tart plum skin, and leaves you with a hint of spice. It’s made to eat with seared foie gras with lingonberry jam, or gooey baked brie with cranberry sauce.

LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION: Taittinger Brut La Française ($50)

Earning 90 points from Wine Spectator, this brut is luxurious and creamy at a non-Dom Perignon price.

FOOD: These pair well with Epicurious’ Seared Foie Gras and Lingonberry Jam on Brioche Toast and The Kitchn’s Baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce.
 

michel_gonet_authentique_closeupTHIRD CHAMPAGNE: 2004 Michel Gonet Champagne Prestige Brut

Both of these Michel Gonets are dripping with Champagne bready notes. Drink these if you want to spot what Champagne is all about. The Prestige Brut is not as super dry as the previous Champagnes. This sweetness brings out its fruit and melt-in-your-mouth brioche qualities. It tastes of yeast and honey, plus a high concentration of tight, fine bubbles. It’s a perfect selection for tart caramel and buttery almond desserts.

Michel Gonet Champagne Cuvée Authentique Grand Cru

To truly experience Champange, you must try an Authentique Grand Cru. Authentique means that it’s aged in a barrel, although in the typical skilled Champagne way, its oak flavor is extremely subtle and perfectly balanced. You also get to taste Michel Gonet’s cuvée, the first pressing, or the best juice of the grapes. Toasted oak, yeasty, bready, white flower honey, yet still fresh, crisp, and a jack of all trades. This Champagne is my personal favorite. Try it with every single course and notice how it changes the food. And please, sip it with those almond cookies.

LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION: Piper-Heidsieck Brut ($35-$40 for 750ml)

This is a great find for the price. Its flavor is toasty, citrus, and yeasty, and echoes the typical Champagne notes above. It’s lovely for the rich milky goodness of the caramel apples, and the almond butteriness of the Italian cookies.

FOOD: Two desserts that will go great with these are Divas Can Cook’s Mini Caramel Apples and David Lebovitz’s Italian Almond Cookies.

Which Champagne do you like best? Do you have a favorite pairing? We want to know! Tag the photos of your glamorous Holiday Champagne Cocktail Party with #wine4food. Happy Holidays!

Images: BigstockRondellMelling, & Golden Ram Imports