The Sensuality and Reality of Champagne

Champagne can only come from France
Champagne is only from the Champagne region in France.
Champagne can only come from France
Champagne is only from the Champagne region in France.

No matter the fizz or its hue, we’d agree, fizzy wines are sensual.  Today we celebrate all that sparkles and the foods that might surprise you.  And they pair perfectly with fizz.

This sensuality of fizzy wines comes from the way they look to their lore to actual physiological reactions in our brain when we taste and swallow that sparkling liquid. Let’s take moment to look deeply into our glass and find out why.

Start with Champagne.  The word Champagne is used often when speaking about any wine with bubbles or fizz.  However, the word legally only refers to sparkling wine from the region in France of the same name and using the méthode champenoise.  National laws regarding this are based on EU regulations and international trade agreements.  If ignored, and they are by some countries, lawsuits are slapped instantly.  If sparkling wine comes from anywhere else in the world it is technically and legally “sparkling wine”.

However, there’s one loophole in California, dating back to World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.  Yes, really.  A section of the treaty was written to insure only sparkling wine from Champagne could be labeled as such.  Although the USA signed the paperwork, the Senate never ratified the treaty.  Likely the French didn’t get their knickers in a knot over this because in the U.S., Prohibition was set to put American winemaking to death.  This is why you’ll find certain bottles of sparkling wine from California labeled as  “Champagne”.  These are found mostly on the bottom shelf of your local drug or grocery store (in California).  The majority of  California winemakers today honor the tradition of the word – only a few take advantage of the loophole.

California "Champagne"
California “Champagne” loophole.

What are the grape varieties in Champagne?

The grapes that make Champagne are primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Bubble Train mystery solved.
Science solves Bubble Train mystery/

What makes the bubbles?

Inside the wine bottle, there are no bubbles. The magic happens when you pop the cork, the yeasts ferment sugars (from the grapes) and form carbon monoxide gas as a by-product.  That bottle of sparkling wine has more pressure in it than the tires in our car!  Bubbly is no secret to science. But the ongoing mystery of why they move around and up the glass is another matter. Recently, scientists at the University of Reims, France (the hometown of Champagne) have discovered that tiny gas pockets and fibers stuck on the inside of a glass, either from dust or the towel used for drying, influence the timing of the bubble trains.  The gas bubbles grow inside the fibers, detaching from them once they reach the tip of a fiber.

This is one you can try at home. To add more fizz to a flute, wipe the glass with zeal to leave behind extra fibers. Or if you prefer a calmer sip, air-dry glasses upside down.

Okay, so there’s only one Champagne, but are there different kinds?

Yes. And, it’s all about sugar. Champagne celebrates the use of sugar in its winemaking.  Sugar is added to Champagne in varying amounts.  For pairing with most food and Champagne does go with just about any food, dry (or less sugar) is best.  If you’re having dessert you’ll want sweeter (i.e. more sugar)  in your choice.

Various degrees of sweetness in Champagne.
Champagne can be very sweet to bone dry.

The sweetness levels are right on the label for us.  On the sweetest to driest scale it goes like this:  A highly sensual and almost other-worldly essence of sweetness will be labeled “doux”.  Then it moves to the dryer tastes from “demi-sec” to “sec” to “extra-dry”.  It  gets a bit confusing at the point that you see “sec” on the label.  “Sec” means dry in French, yet on Champagne the word “sec” and “extra dry” are actually fairly sweet tasting.  When you see “brut” and “extra-brut,” you’re in the dry department and the wines are amazingly food friendly.

What foods pair with dry Champagne?

It is easier to say what would not pair.  So, let’s start there.  Dry Champagne (or any dry sparkling wine for that matter) is lousy with dessert.  Think how many times you’ve been served Champagne with cake at a wedding or other celebration.  Take a bite of cake, a sip of Champagne, and you have a mouthful of bitter.  Go for the sweeter versions when you see cake.

However, for dry Champagne, think fried food, salty food, buttery and rich food.  In other words, think fried chicken, sushi, potato chips, popcorn, lobster, shrimp, oysters, triple cream cheese, buttery sauces, salumi and on and on…the bubbles cleanse your palate between bites and clear the oiliness from fried or buttery foods and tame the richness of decadent foods such as foie gras, triple cream cheeses and lobster.

Fried Chicken and Champagne are perfect pairing.
Perfect Pairing: Champagne and Fried Chicken.

How is rosé Champagne made?

There are two ways.  One is to macerate the red grapes (Petite Meunier, Pinot Noir) on their skins until the desired color is achieved, usually about 1-3 days.  The second, and most popular, is to blend the red wine grapes with the white wine grapes to achieve the color and taste.

What foods pair with rosé Champagne?

Foods with strong fruit or vegetable flavors such as beet risotto, roasted tomato, creamy sauces, creamy cheeses, fruits, roasted pork, lamb.  Appetizers of all types do as well, pairing wonderfully with conversation and sunsets.

Is Champagne healthier than wine?

Technically, if you’re counting calories, Champagne is lower at about 90 calories per glass.  Wine can top over 100.  Serving sizes for Champagne are smaller and we tend to drink the sparkling wines more slowly (well, some do).

There are many studies that conflict but here’s one study that found that the polyphenols found in red wine can also be found in champagne. Let’s raise a glass to that! These antioxidants reduce the damage free radicals can do to the body, possibly helping lower blood pressure and prevent heart problems.

But here are a couple of drawbacks to consider.  While science argues that headaches from wine are likely caused from the histamines in the grape skins, others argue that with Champagne it’s the bubbles which carry alcohol more quickly into our bloodstream.  BTW, it’s a myth that sulfites in wine cause headaches.  Drinking too much Champagne could cause problems with tooth enamel because of the acidity (which also makes the wine so good with food).

What about Sparkling Wine?

Sparkling wine can be made in a variety of ways from a variety of grapes.  You’ll see them on shelves and on wine lists as Prosecco, Cava, Cremant coming from Italy, Spain, Mexico, California, New Mexico, Oregon, New York, Canada, Burgundy, Loire Valley and increasingly the UK.  More about these sparklers in an upcoming post.

Hoping for a great New Year.
Happy New Year with optimistic hopes for 2019.


Champagne and sparkling wine shouldn’t be relegated to celebrations or special occasions.  These fizzes need to be rotated within your other favorite wines to be celebrated for certain – over a bag of popcorn and Netflix, fried chicken and picnics, and sweeter versions with fruits, cakes and other desserts.

And, so we say Cheers to a New Year with wishes for peace, friends, family, health, humor, hope and abundance of only good things!  HaPpY New Year!  Thank you for your comments and subscribing.

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Images:  Champagne Flutes, Courtesy ParisCityVision, Courtesy, Courtesy New York Times, Courtesy, 123rf, Courtesy Veuve Cliquot, Courtesy, New Year Insider.

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