Erik Neilson on December 19, 2016 2 Comments Ahh, Champagne. Its name alone connotes luxury, symbolic in ways that bring to mind celebrations for a job well done or a special occasion. Whether with a meal or on its own, Champagne can all but completely transform one’s evening and leave lasting impressions. At the same time, Champagne is one of the most mysterious entities in the wine world for many people. Some think that they need to spend hundreds of dollars to end up with a serviceable bottle, and it often comes down to a lack of understanding in terms of what to actually look for in a good Champagne. Champagne vs Processo: Do You Know the Difference? What to Look for When Evaluating Your Champagne Despite the anxieties many people have when it comes time to order up a bottle of Champagne at a restaurant or grab one from the store to bring home, neither scenario should be stress-inducing. Here are a handful of characteristics found in quality Champagne, and if your somm or wine seller is worth their salt, they’ll be able to help you find a bottle that suits what you’re looking for. 1. Appearance The first thing to take a close look at when evaluating a Champagne is its appearance. Like it or not, most people tend to make quick judgments based upon the appearance of wines once they’ve been poured into a glass, and Champagne is no exception to the rule. While it’s not always a signpost for quality, the appearance of a glass of Champagne can be useful in determining how much care went into the production process. The color of a good Champagne can vary but typically falls in the realm of light-gold or a pale yellow. Champagne that is amber in color is also found at times, though not quite as often. It’s important to remember that Champagne is produced from white grapes. If a Champagne pours pink or even slightly red, it’s a safe bet that it has been treated in some way with food coloring (and thus should be avoided). Take a moment to look at the Champagne’s clarity. A Champagne that has been properly fermented will almost always be crystal clear, allowing for easy viewing right through the other side of the glass. Champagnes that are murky or cloudy tend to not exhibit characteristics of true quality when it comes to flavor and smell. In this scenario, it’s actually wise to judge a book by its cover. 2. Smell Once the Champagne has been poured, take a moment to swirl the glass and breathe in the aroma of the wine. Even upon removing the cork and cage, the bottle should give off a lively aroma of fresh fruit and subtle minerality. Champagnes can range quite dramatically in aroma, with some showcasing the yeasts involved in production rather than fruity characteristics. Across the board, however, good Champagne should smell like freshly baked bread with a hint of wet limestone. It’s not uncommon for top-quality Champagnes to exhibit aromas of apple sauce, pie spices and pears, all of which are signposts of bubbly wine that’s more than worth drinking. Then, there’s bad Champagne. If the Champagne is “off” in any way, you’ll know from the smell. Rather than attractive pie spices, poor-quality Champagne can smell astringent and even perfumey. If you encounter such a wine, it may be best to simply move on — consider it a learning experience. 3. Mouthfeel Perhaps the most important thing to consider when evaluating a Champagne is its mouthfeel. It’s something that many people don’t think about, but mouthfeel is quite a bit different than flavor in that it actually helps to deliver the taste of the wine rather than exemplify it. The mouthfeel of a great Champagne is going to be creamy, soft and mellow — not abrasive and overly “loud,” which are characteristics found in lesser quality Champagne. It should feel crisp in the mouth, with tightly knit bubbles that aren’t necessarily sharp, but sturdy instead. Champagne that is heavy on the palate and overtly gassy tends to be ruin the nuances of what might otherwise be found in the wine. It’s important to remember that no matter how good the taste of the Champagne happens to be, it will be hard to enjoy if the mouthfeel isn’t right. 4. Flavor The flavor of a Champagne is what it all comes down to. Champagne is characterized based upon the amount of residual sugar that is left in the wine. If sugar content is low, the wine is considered dry and is typically labeled “brut.” Oddly enough, Champagne with a bit more sugar is labeled “extra-dry,” with Champagne labeled “sec” containing as much as 1-2% sugar. The flavor of a brut, or dry Champagne should be intensely bready with crisp apple and melon characteristics throughout. As one moves to the sweeter side of the spectrum, the Champagne tends to get fruitier and more sugary, making it ideal for pairing with desserts such as cake. Most people prefer to drink dry Champagne when possible, but there is certainly a time and place for sweet variations on the wine. Does Price Matter? One of the greatest things about the modern wine world is that there are countless great wines available that don’t cost a veritable arm and a leg. When it comes to Champagne, however, spending a bit more money can make a difference in terms of quality, as many low quality Champagnes tend to also be inexpensive. Bearing this in mind, any bottle that hovers around $40 will typically be worth drinking, especially if you’re able to find more expensive Champagnes on sale. If you’re looking for quality in a sparkling wine but don’t want to spend the extra money for Champagne, there are plenty of alternatives that can fit the bill — Prosecco and Rosé come to mind. So don’t be afraid of not knowing whether or not you’re in store for a good or bad bottle of Champagne. As long as you know what to look for, you’re bound to find a bottle that’s ideal for your next special event.