6 Things to Know About Champagne

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Most of us think of Champagne as a special-occasion wine: something to raise aloft and enjoy at weddings, engagements, anniversaries and other happy events or on New Year’s Eve.

But more and more people are breaking out the bubbly to render more festive an everyday dinner or evening out with friends. Or at least they should, David White, author of the new book But First, Champagne, recently told NPR’s The Salt blog, contending, “Every day has moments worthy of a toast.”

Sounds good to us. Here are six other things about Champagne, culled from NPR’s interview with White, to know and celebrate:

All that glitters … : Not every wine that sparkles is Champagne. Strictly speaking, the name applies only to sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne region. Other sparkling wines include Cava, which hails from Spain; Prosecco, which comes from Italy; Crémant, from other French regions; and Germany’s Sekt.

A matter of taste: Champagne’s flavor — as distinct from other sparkling wines, as each is from the other — can be attributed to its terroir, which means where it comes from and when, White told NPR. Grapes from Champagne, where the climate is cool, he said, “ripen slowly, allowing concentration of flavor without reducing freshness. Its identity is also derived from deep chalk soils.”

What’s in a name: In France, the name “Champagne” has been legally restricted to wines from the Champagne region since the middle of the 19th century — and after World War I, the Treaty of Versailles extended that trademark protection worldwide, White noted. However, since the U.S. didn’t sign the treaty, American wine producers were exempt from the restrictions until 2005, when the U.S. government finally moved to curtail the use of the word “Champagne” by producers not from the region. Nevertheless, many well-known U.S. brands were grandfathered in and still use the “Champagne” moniker.

Toast of the town: What’s behind Champagne’s recently heightened popularity, especially as an everyday indulgence? White credits its status with sommeliers, its social media profile and its “exceptionally food friendly” quality. “Most sparklers are characterized by vibrant acidity and freshness, which help them cut through spicy meals, complement savory food, and elevate even the simplest of dishes,” he said, recommending pairings with a burger or sushi.

Big and small: While most of us can list a few well-known Champagnes — you got your Dom Perignon, your Veuve Clicquot, your Moet & Chandon — that blend wines from different vineyards, varieties and vintages to achieve a “consistent elegance,” White said, there’s been an increasing focus lately on wines from smaller producers who make wines from their own grapes, using a single vintage, vineyard and variety. The quality of these wines, which have the letters “RM” (for récoltant-manipulant) printed on the bottom of their labels, varies, he said, but, “broadly speaking, grower Champagnes have more personality. And there’s something obviously and instinctively appealing about buying from a small grower.”

Don’t be afraid to ask: “Most merchants and sommeliers are keen to help patrons find the perfect wine, regardless of the price,” White told NPR.

I’ll raise a glass to that.

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