After a short time living in France, I realised that there was more to Champagne than just quaffing it as an ‘aperitif’. I think this tasting epiphany happened while sitting down one day to a vintage something or other with some very close cousins who live just on the outskirts of the Champagne region. These people are extremely passionate about champagne, fine wine and gourmet foods. In fact, the wife worked for many years as the Press Attaché at the Plaza Athénée in Paris and was fortunate enough to learn many tricks in the kitchen of the great Alain Ducasse.
She would usually start cooking on a Wednesday if we were coming over for Sunday lunch, but I digress…
It was one of these Sunday afternoons, sitting in their stone house, in front of their open fire, after two exceptionally good vintages, that I realised I really should start paying attention to what I was drinking, because there was an awful lot to be learnt. But how does one go about ‘tasting’ a champagne – really tasting it? Properly.
You can really use all 5 senses for a great tasting experience, but the eye, the nose, and the mouth are enough to get you going.
Firstly, you must be sure to start with a clean slate – no coffee or other things which can alter your taste, and no strong perfume to alter your smell.
The Eye: Before tasting, have a good look at the colour of the champagne in the glass – hold it up against something white to get a true idea. There are various different hues which change according to the age and the cuvée. Then have a look at the bubbles. Are they nice and fine? Are there a lot of them? Are they popping out of the glass, joyously looking to be drunk?
The Nose: Next, take a good sniff in your glass. Swirl it around a bit (but not to energetically that it sloshes out!) There are many different aromas that can be identified before even tasting the champagne. Different grapes tend to show different characteristics.
The Mouth: Finally it’s time to sip. Here you will see if the champagne lives up to its promise. You can feel the balance and freshness of the drink. If you swirl it around in your mouth and exhale through your nose, you may be able to identify something familiar.
If you are really keen, you can keep a little diary of when and where you drank a particular champagne. It’s interesting to sometimes come back and compare, especially if you drink the same champagne but several months or years later.
I find that with these sorts of notebooks, I start with the very best intentions, but slip up the more different champagnes I taste in a tasting. After all, I am too much of a lady to spit, and you wouldn’t want to waste a good drink!
Often, if we are trying 5 – 6 champagnes in a sitting, the notes for my first 3 will be very detailed but from about the 4th one on they degrade quite rapidly to something along the lines of
As far as tasting goes, it’s different horses for different courses, and if you prefer just to savour your champagne or, depending on the occasion quaff it down with friends, it really doesn’t matter. The main thing is you enjoy what you are drinking and realise that champagne is really a nectar from the Gods!