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10 Things You Didn't Know About Champagne

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If you're anything like me, you don't know how to make graceful small talk at parties without resorting to an awkward recitation of facts within your narrow range of interest: Ethiopian food, maps, the history of the Gulf Oil building...

New Year's Eve parties aren't any better or worse than any other types of forced merriment -- in fact, considering the fact that you get to do a big group countdown toward the end, they might be more fun from my aspie perspective -- but it's always good to have an arsenal of small talk in your back pocket for those situations in which you've run out of weather-related things to say.

That's where this post comes in. Instead of rambling about something entirely unrelated and risking further awkwardness, just point to the glass of Champagne in your hand, take a breath and start with, "Did you know..."

10. You already knew that sparkling wine can't be called Champagne unless it's from the Champagne wine region of France. But did you know that the region is also famous for its boudin blanc and sauerkraut?

9. The oldest sparkling wine on record was not produced by Dom Perignon; don't believe the old wives' tales. It was made by Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire in 1531.

8. There's long been a rivalry between the Champagne and Burgundy regions in France. The Champenois always struggled to make fine red wines of the Burgundy style, but their cooler climate made this nearly impossible.

7. On that note, the Champagne region is the northernmost wine-growing region in France. (The Languedoc-Roussillon region is the southernmost.)

6. Although most Champagne is white, two of the three grapes used for its production are actually red: Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. The other is a standard white Chardonnay.

5. The reason you hardly ever see a year on a bottle of Champagne is that it's rare for Champagne to have a vintage. Most bottles of Champagne are produced by blending wines from various vintages to achieve a consistent flavor and style from year to year.

4. The world's oldest Champagne was opened in 2009: an 1825 bottle of Perrier-Jouët, uncorked at the winemaker's cellars in Epernay. The 184-year-old wine was found by experts to have aged considerably well, with notes of "truffles and caramel."

3. The terms brut and extra brut simply refer to how sweet the Champagne is. Brut means the wine has less than 12 grams of sugar per liter; extra brut is less than six. If you're looking for a sweet sparkler, try a sec (with 17 to 32 grams of sugar) or a really sugary doux.

2. Champagne shouldn't be served ice cold. As our wine blogger Jeremy Parzen suggests, remove it from the refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes prior to the time you'll be popping the cork.

1. Before being inserted into the bottle, a Champagne cork is almost 50 percent larger than the opening itself. So be careful when you're uncorking it: Always keep your hand over the cork and the [loosened] wire cage when you're opening a bottle, so as to avoid any possible flying-cork-into-your-date's-eye scenarios. Of course, there's always sabering, but that's a technique best left to the professionals.

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