Choosing champagne is largely a matter of personal preference. With the very wide array of wines available throughout the world, the choices can seem overwhelming. When choosing this sparkling beverage, the first step is often to learn about different varieties and become familiar with the terms on the labels. The next step usually involves sampling a few varieties to see which one is the most pleasing. Considering where and how it will be served is also important.
Champagne labels can be confusing, especially to those inexperienced at reading them. Each label should show the beverage brand, where and in what year it was fermented, and a few flavor notes. Terms, such as brut and demi-sec, should appear above the fermentation year and below the name. These terms denote how sweet or dry the beverage is. From sweetest to driest the terms are: doux, demi-sec, sec, extra brut and brut.
Doux, demi-sec and sec champagnes are all very sweet and are classified as dessert wines. This means they can be served with dessert or even as dessert. Those that love sweetness in their beverages should find these kinds of champagnes very pleasing. Individuals preferring drier, or less sweet, alcoholic beverages should choose extra brut or brut, which can both be served before, after or with meals. These terms may also be printed as 'extra dry' or 'dry' on the bottle labels.
The next step in this choice includes deciding between true champagnes — meaning those from Champagne, France — or sparkling wines. By law, only champagnes from their namesake region in France may be labeled as such, at least in Europe. Certain brands from California, in the United States, may also be labeled champagne. Both champagnes and sparkling wines have a bubbly mouth-feel and share many of the same taste notes. Some wine experts believe that true champagnes are smoother and more delicate than sparkling wines.
Tasting is one of the most important parts of choosing champagne. Many wine and spirits stores sell miniature bottles of champagne and sparkling wine, allowing patrons to purchase many different kinds to sample at home. Local wineries often host wine tastings, either for free or for a small fee. These usually include several varieties of champagne. When tasting, taking notes about each variety may help keep track of which kinds were the most pleasing.
Choosing how much champagne to purchase may depend on when and where it will be served. For personal use or a romantic evening, a single bottle of one’s favorite variety should suffice. Those hosting dinner parties may want to ask the guests what kinds of drinks they prefer, or simply purchase an assortment of both sweet and dry champagnes. These beverages should always be chilled, so serving them right from the refrigerator or an ice bucket usually works best.