Champagne by true definition, can only be made in the Champagne region of France. However, the term has become generic for sparkling wine or more accurately, wines made in the methode champenoise. These wines are naturally fermented in the bottle, allowing the flavor and complexity of the wine to be derived from the fruit, instead of added sugars. The largest maker of methode champenoise wine in the world is the Spanish label Freixenet, named for the founding Ferrer family's homestead "La Freixeneda" meaning "the ash grove tree."
What does all this have to do with a Champagne Bar? Well to start, methode champenoise sparkling wines are perfect for parties—they are festive, ideal for a casual outdoor party, and they can be far more affordable than their French counterparts. Plus, it helps to know a bit about the subject, making for great conversation and "ice breakers."
Here is some Champagne trivia that will help get the party rolling:
FACT: Carbon dioxide is created during the fermentation process, resulting in millions of tiny bubbles. In fact, there are roughly 44 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine.
FACT: Sparkling wines range from dry to sweet, and the labels indicate just how sweet a champagne is, although not all terms make logical sense. Brut is the dryest, while Extra-Dry is actually semi-sweet.
FACT: "Popping a cork" is not only frowned upon but dangerous. It is best to tilt the bottle to a 45-degree angle and gently ease the cork out until you hear a gentle sigh. Remember that the cork is under extreme pressure and can exit the bottle at speeds of 38 to 40 miles per hour. Never point a bottle at a person while opening it.
FACT: Sparking wines should be served chilled for an hour in the refrigerator or 30 minutes in a bucket of ice and cold water. Do not leave a bottle in the refrigerator for long periods, as the cork may shrink causing air to come into the bottle and turning the champagne bitter.
FACT: Upon tasting his discovery, Dom Perignon, the blind French monk that developed the method of making champagne, exclaimed, "Brothers, come quick! I am tasting stars!" Champagne has garnered numerous quotes about it, including one from columnist Art Buchwald who said "I like Champagne because it always tastes as if my foot's asleep."
Use the following guide:
1 750 ml bottle of sparkling wine = 5 partially filled
A 12-bottle case will serve 60 glasses.
Allow roughly 2 drinks per person in the first hour, then less as time goes on (more like one per hour, thereafter). Don't forget that people drink more in warm weather—so keep an eye out for well-meaning but overindulgent guests. Remember, you are responsible for their well being and should have plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available to quench their thirst.
To best taste the complex flavors and see the longest bubble trails, use room temperature flutes or tulip-shaped glasses. Place the wine in a bucket or large tub filled with ice for 30 minutes before serving. Remove the foil and loosen the wire cage (never shake the bottle!). Keep hold of the cork as soon as your loosen the cage, to avoid spontaneous eruption. Point the bottle away from you, and anyone else. Then tilt it at a 45 degree angle and slowly twist the bottle, not the cork, easing the cork out until it the gas escapes, making a relaxed sighing noise. Then pour into tall, stemmed glasses and enjoy.
Sparkling wines lend themselves well to mixing with fruit juices. The famous Harry's Bar in Venice created one of yours truly's favorites: The Bellini, a wonderful mix of sparkling wine and fresh peach juice. Of course, you can also use orange juice, puréed watermelon or other fruit essence to mix with sparkling wine for a refreshing summer cooler. And by mixing the wine with juices, you can help prevent your guests from getting a bit too tipsy too soon.
So here's a traditional Eskimo toast to start off your Champagne Toasting Bar: "May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp and peace in your heart."
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This page created December 1998; modified November 2006
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