It's champagne season and before you pour a glass of the bubbly, there are a few things you should know about the celebratory tradition, which is becoming an everyday toast.
Jonny Reff, a bartender at 31 Club, took the time to talk about champagne as well as the technique to enjoy the pure art of champagne drinking.
Question: Is there a proper way to serve champagne?
Answer: There's definitely a delicacy to the presentation of champagne. Obviously you don't grab a glass and dump it right in there.
There is an elegance that should go along with drinking your finer champagnes and even your less than finer champagnes like sparkling wines and lower-end proseccos. Champagne is synonymous with celebrations and New Year's Eve and your toast at midnight, or a fine dinner, or the birth of a child - big occasions.
Q: Is there a trick to opening it? Do you pop it or twist it?
A: It's a slight twist and a very subtle pull. I mean if you really want to show off you could pop it and shoot it across the room and possibly take someone's eye out. But in an establishment like this, you have to have it under control. It's a slight twist and a little yank up.
Q: Are you supposed to pour it right away or let it sit?
A: As long as you grab your champagne glass, tilt it at a 45-degree angle, and pour from there, as long as you do it slowly, you're good. You need to be aware of your natural yeast carbonation there because it will overflow if you're not gentle enough - going back to the delicacy of the beverage itself.
From there, you observe the beauty of the subtle light, candlelight preferably coming through this beautiful beverage and watching these bubbles rise. It's kind of a show in and of itself.
Q: There are different types of champagne as far as dryness or sweetness. Prosecco is getting very popular?
Your prosecco is coming out of Italy. It's made from the prosecco grape, or the Glera grape. That region is north of Venice. The process is slightly different than making French champagne, which leaves it a little bit sweeter. The bubbles themselves are going to be slightly larger while lasting a little less longer than your champagne. It has its own personality.
A: For a traditional champagne, would that be a brut?
A lot of them come brut and the longer they are aged, they mellow out a bit taking away the dryness, the tartness and taking on a more mellow kind of lighter fruity and slightly yeasty notes. They just kind of mellow them out over the years. Brioche is a common term to describe that while aging - it's like an oakiness.
And of course there are different prices - some bottles are behind the bar and some are locked up (in a climate controlled cooler set precisely at 46 degrees). The higher-end champagnes are under lock and key. Your traditional champagnes start out at $40 or $50 (retail) and you go anywhere up to the few hundreds, if not more. Where as, your sparkling wines, your prosecco, you can buy at a more reasonable price point - low teens, tens and they can raise in price as well.
Q: Do a lot of people come in and buy a whole bottle?
A: Absolutely! Even on a regular day, we'll have couples come in and split a bottle - they are 12-14 percent alcohol. Over the course of a 2.5 hour meal, some will finish it. It's New York State so we can package it up and you can take it with you if you don't drink it all. (they also sell three types by the glass)
Q: You've been tending bar over a decade, champagne is known for a special occasion, but more people are drinking it regularly?
A: On a Monday night, I'll have some people come down for a glass of prosecco. I shared a bottle with my girlfriend while we were decorating our Christmas. It's definitely becoming more common place for people to enjoy it with dinner and it pairs well with a lot of different styles of food. And those bubbles in an of itself help cleanse your palette. We also have a lot of people enjoying prosecco as their dessert drink.
Q: And some people save the cork after sharing a bottle of champagne?
A: You see a lot of that. People re-purpose their corks or use for decorating or collecting purposes. I'll save the cork from a good bottle as a reminder of something I'd like to buy as a gift. Sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco all make phenomenal gifts especially around the holidays. You can't go wrong.