Champagne, the sparkling jewel of the wine world, is a beverage that has graced the tables of celebrations and special occasions for centuries. The fourth Friday of October is observed as Champagne Day, and it falls on October 27 this year. There couldn't have been a better day to understand the basics of look, flavour and aroma of this drink, to enjoy it to the fullest.
The effervescent allure of champagne lies not only in its bubbly character, but also in the intricate symphony of flavours that dance on the palate. Understanding and appreciating its flavours, often referred to as tasting notes, can elevate your champagne experience to a whole new level.
Technically, the drink is a sparkling wine, and the name indicates the region, Champagne in France, in which it's produced. Exploring and discerning its flavour notes follows the same process as wine tasting. It's an art that has been refined over centuries, and is regarded as a sensorial journey that involves sight, smell, and taste. Tasting notes are descriptions of the various aromas and flavours that can be detected in a wine. These notes serve as a bridge between the taster's experience and the maker's art.
Champagne is unique in this regard. Unlike still wines, it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, which gives it its signature effervescence. This process also creates an intricate tapestry of flavours that wine enthusiasts love to explore.
Before even taking the first sip, the visual aspects of champagne can offer insights into its character. Pour your champagne into a clean, tulip-shaped glass, and observe its appearance. A pristine golden hue, with fine and persistent bubbles, often suggests a well-aged and sophisticated champagne. The clarity of the wine can tell you about its quality, and the bubbles can indicate the level of effervescence.
Swirl the champagne gently in your glass to release its aromas, and then take a moment to inhale the bouquet. Champagne's aroma is a delicate harmony of scents that can range from floral and fruity to yeasty and nutty, depending on the blend and aging process.
Common aromas in champagne include notes of green apple, pear, citrus, and white flowers, as well as hints of brioche and almond, which are a result of the secondary fermentation in the bottle. Take your time to identify these fragrances; they are the prelude to the flavours that will follow.
Finally, the most anticipated act of the champagne experience is the tasting. The flavours that unfold on your palate are a complex interplay of sweetness, acidity, and the various components that make up the wine. It typically showcases a balance of crisp acidity and subtle sweetness, with a surprising depth of flavours.
Look for tasting notes such as ripe apple, lemon zest, apricot, and even a touch of honey or toasted bread. The finish is a crucial part of the experience. A good champagne will leave a long, lingering, and pleasant aftertaste.
Different styles of champagne can offer various tasting notes. A Brut champagne, which is the most common type, is dry and crisp, with notes of green apple and citrus. Extra Brut, on the other hand, is even drier, with a more pronounced mineral character. Blanc de Blancs, made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, tends to have a lighter, crisper profile with notes of green fruit and citrus. Blanc de Noirs, made from red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes, often exhibits red fruit notes, such as cherry or strawberry.
While the tasting notes provide a roadmap for exploring champagne, it's essential to remember that wine tasting is a highly personal experience. Everyone's palate is different, and what one person detects, another may not. The beauty of champagne is in its versatility and ability to cater to a wide range of tastes.
Its effervescent and complex flavours invite exploration. Whether you're sipping it as part of a celebration or simply enjoying a quiet evening, understanding and savouring its tasting notes can add depth and richness to the experience.
Sujata Patil is a Pune-based wine consultant.