Select the best bubbly for the occasion with these tips.
Step 1: Know the definition of champagne Know the definition of champagne: only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France can be labeled champagne.
TIP: Less expensive alternatives include California sparkling wine, Spanish Cava, Italian prosecco, and Alsatian Cremant.
Step 2: Set a budget Decide how much you want to spend. Non-vintage champagnes, a blend of grapes from several different years, are the least expensive. Vintage champagnes cost more because they're made from grapes of the same year, and only in a year when the crop was exceptional. Prestige cuvees, the proprietary blend of a particular producer, are the priciest.
Step 3: Check the label Check the label. Grand cru indicates the champagne is from a village noted for its superior vineyards. The label will also tell you whether the champagne is brut, meaning dry, or sec, which indicates a sweeter champagne. If there's no year on the label, it's a non-vintage champagne.
TIP: Look for champagnes labeled "RM" in very small letters, which indicates they were produced by the grape grower. It generally signals high quality at a lower price because it doesn't come with the advertising costs of the big champagne houses, which are mostly labeled "NM."
Step 4: Don't limit your champagne to the brut used for special-occasion toasts: Rose champagne makes a nice aperitif; blanc de blancs, made from chardonnay grapes, goes well with light foods, like seafood; blanc de noirs, made from red grapes, complements heartier fare; and demi-sec, which is sweet, can be served with dessert.
Step 5: Store properly Store champagne in a cool, dark place where the temperature stays steady. Chill it to about 40 degrees in an ice bucket filled half with ice and half with water for 20 to 30 minutes, or by putting it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Cheers!
FACT: Dom Perignon was a 17th-century French monk so renowned for his champagne-making skills, legend has it he could tell exactly where a grape had been grown just by tasting it.