Buying the tiny bubbles can be hugely confusing.
Cynthia from Cravings, who taught the champagne and cheese pairing class at Murray's Cheese, shared these five tips to help us boost our champagne confidence:
• Forget the flute: While flutes are best for taking sips at parties, Cynthia encourages the curious to taste champagne in a white wine glass. "When I am assessing a champagne at home I prefer to drink it out of a white wine glass. I can appreciate the aromas and taste better this way. There is more room to swirl the wine, and the whole tasting experience is altered."
• Go vintage: Champagne isn't produced in vintages every year. They wait for the very best. Cynthia says the greatest recent vintage years were 1990 and 1996. Before that, it was 1988, 1982 and 1979.
Cynthia served me my first glass of vintage champagne: a 1996 Jacquesson Grand Cru Avize ($59.29 at wittyswine.com). She calls it a "great value" since "it's from the best vintage since 1990, from a top producer." I call it a prefect treat for the hard-working holiday cook. Ask for this bottle, or ask a salesperson in a good wine shop for some help picking a vintage bottle.
• Keep an eye on the store: When your planning to spring for great champagne, Cynthia says it pays to visit the experts. Smaller shops likely do not have the proper facilities to store champagne properly. For New York City champagne shoppers, Cynthia recommends Astor Wines & Spirits and Columbus Circle Liquor.
• Dare to pair: While champagne is usually served solo before or after a meal, Cynthia says champagne pairings can be very successful. "Champagne is really so versatile since you can serve it as aperitif all the way to dessert," Cynthia says. Champagne is a good match for Asian food and ross go well with chicken or lamb. Cynthia said some vintage champagnes can even be paired with meat dishes.
• Think terroir: When you buy champagne, you're buying in to terroir. What is terroir? Terroir is a French word, borrowed in English to suggest that the flavors of a wine, coffee, cheese or other food depend on precisely where they are grown and produced, giving the food a "sense of place" or even a "personality." While some experts argue about the distinction between sparkling wines produced in the famed Champagne region v.s. those made in other spots, certainly the location where a food comes from has some role in its taste. Terroir adds to the romance of this treat. Enjoy!
(updated from 11.29.06)