5 Tips for Serving Champagne and Sparkling Wine

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Even if you missed our Top 5 Champagnes Under $60 for the Holidays, you'll find that your favorite wine shop will have a tide of options when it comes to sparkling wine, including traditional- and classic-method wines (i.e., wines made using the méthode champenoise but grown and raised outside Champagne) and Charmat-method wines (like most Prosecco and Cava).

Last night we paired our latkes (traditional potato pancakes for Hanukkah) with a favorite traditional-method sparkling Vouvray (Loire), made from Chenin Blanc.

No matter what kind of sparkling wine you serve to your guests this holiday season, here are some tips on how to maximize your enjoyment of these wines (and get your money's worth).

5. Transport and Store Your Wine Properly - Be sure not to expose the wine to extreme heat or cold (don't leave it in the trunk of your car). Try to let the wine "rest" in a cool place, away from direct sunlight, for as long as possible before service.

4. Never Remove Your Thumb from the Top of the Cork while Opening - As the old adage goes, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Nothing will change the mood of a party like someone being injured by the cork that got away. Remove the foil from the bottle (there should be a strip that allows you to remove it neatly); place your thumb over the mushroom cork as quickly as possible; turn the handle of the "cage" gently to the right (it's always six turns); remove the cage, returning your thumb to the top of the cork as soon as possible; grasp the cork with the same hand; tilt the bottle to a 45° angle; and then gently turn the bottle from the bottom, holding the cork firmly. And when opening sparkling wine, be sure the neck of the bottle is pointed away from your guests.

3. Don't Serve the Wine Too Cold - Excessive cold will mask the wine's aromas and flavors. Especially when pouring at a party, sparkling wine tends to be consumed quickly (there are six glasses per 750ml bottle, 12 half-pours if you're serving it as an aperitif). If you serve it too cold, it will be gone before it gets a chance to reveal its character. My rule of thumb is keep the bottle in the fridge until about 15 or 20 minutes before you intend to open it.

2. Forget the Flute - In our country, the flute is a relatively recent phenomenon (a generation ago, sparkling wine was served in the coupe, supposedly modeled after Marie Antoinette's breast). While the flute will help to concentrate the wine's fizziness and its aromas, it doesn't allow the rest of the wine to breathe. Especially when serving fine Champagne, the flute -- in my view -- is the worst glass for the wine. My favorite receptacle for sparkling wine is a classic Chardonnay or White Wine glass. Try different glass shapes and sizes and find the one right for you.

1. Decant Your Sparkling Wine - Historically, sparkling wine was often decanted because of the sediment resulting from the second fermentation in bottle. In Venice, where Prosecco is the preferred wine for small plates, the wines used to be served exclusively in carafes. Decanting the wine will help it to "open up" and reveal more of its flavor, it will show off the color and perlage of the bubbles, and it will make for a great conversation piece.

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