Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cold, Hard Fact About Champagne: Warm up the Bubbly!

Champagne bubbles do not like extreme cold. Photo by Neil Gould.

HEAD’S UP: Welcome to a special edition of Grape: Wine Talk. Sommelier Tamara Fish was having difficulty sleeping just thinking about all of the poor souls drinking – and possibly not enjoying – Champagne to toast the new year. It was a most fervent wish of hers to offer a bit of advice that could save so many from such a cruel fate. We thank her greatly, of course, for her generous counsel.


iconic image: Champagne in an ice bucket.

A truism: There are as many ways to ice Champagne as bottles on New Year’s Eve. A fact: according to thermodynamics, sprinkling table salt over the ice in the bucket and adding water will cause the bottles to chill quickly. The God’s honest truth.

But never keep Champagne on ice for long.
Chilling Champagne too long gives bubbly a bad name. No doubt, we’ve all run across people who like wine but say that they don’t like Champagne. That is simply impossible.  Not liking Champagne is like hating a warm and sunny day. Or perhaps such folk are the exception that proves the rule. Most likely, the Champagne they sipped was simply too damned cold.

Champagne that has been “over chilled” often has a peculiar aftertaste. Imagine licking an aspirin right after taking a sip of wine. Not pleasant. Our tastebuds detect the acidity in ├╝ber-chilly Champagne more readily than its other flavors. Should this happen, the remedy is simple.

Warm the bubbly up a bit.
Remove the bottle from the chiller or hold the filled tulip glass between your fingers (palm up), cradling it in your hand. Wait a minute or two. Now sip again. Slightly warmed from is arctic bath, Champagne behaves as anyone might do in a similar situation: opens up, relaxes and becomes a bit more expansive.

Contact between Champagne and ice is best kept to a strict limit. Photo by Craig Toron.

Test Case:
Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 2002

$200 at,

Sounds far-fetched? Just how much can Champagne improve? Exponentially. At a  67 Wine Taittinger Champagne tasting in New York City, my first sips of the Comtes de Champagne 2002 showed a nice wine with an unfortunate aspirin-bitter aftertaste. Barrett Hamilton of Kobrand Fine Wines and Spirits ( spotted the wet telltale chill line on the bottle.

Clearly those little bubbles were screaming, “Get me outta h-h-h-here,” but we just didn’t hear. He pulled the Champagne from the bucket, waited a minute or two, and poured another glass. We took a sip, and there it was.

Very tight bubbles seemed so so small, so light on the tongue. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002 unfolded layer after layer. Flavor after flavor broke open, if the tastebuds could observe a morphing kaleidoscope in the mouth. Completely astounding my senses (and almost making me break my vow of never ever using such phrases as nutmeg-hued lemon honey macaroon in this column), I nearly shelled out the $200 on the spot.

I simply cannot do justice to this Champagne. Some Champagnes and sparkling wines are perfect for a casual toast. Other Champagnes are for special occasions such as promotions or engagements or weddings, a perfect accompaniment for elegant dinners. Still others are vintage Champagnes: a designation of excellence that the vineyard’s winemakers bestow on the product of an exceptional year, something that happens less often than a blue moon.

Taittinger Comte de Champagne 2002 is an exceptional drink. Image from KL Wines.

Opening a vintage Champagne is the occasion. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002 – a vintage Champagne – fully lives up to its name. Over the top? Perhaps, but first, find a bottle, chill – but not too much – and then tell me.

Will just any champagne be as fabulous as Taittinger Comte de Champagne 2002? No. But I guarantee that every Champagne will taste better if it’s not too cold. Skip the thermodynamics. Submerge the bottle in a bucket of ice – no water, no salt. Remove after 15 minutes and serve.

And remember – if you imbibe, drink responsibly for a bright and Happy New Year.

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