What you need to know about champagne
CHOOSING a good bottle of sparkling wine is one of life's great pleasures.
Do you go for a top-notch local label, splurge on a bottle of the finest French fizz, pucker up for some crisp prosecco or pop the cork on an easy-drinking Spanish cava?
With so many options to choose from, you almost need a glass of bubbles to help you get through the decision-making process.
While champagne might be one of the most famous sparkling wines, these days, there are so many other styles on the market that knowing what to look for, or how to pick a good one, is half the battle.
But what is champagne, really, and what sets it apart from the other, often more accessible, sparkling wines?
We caught up with wine expert, writer and judge ahead of Taste Champagne - Melbourne's premier champagne showcase and one of the biggest champagne events in the world - to talk all things bubbles.
"The most important thing to know about champagne is that it is from a place called Champagne," says Mr Stelzer.
"A sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it is from that beautiful region in France.
"Champagne has one of the most regulated wine industries. What the growers are allowed to do, how much they can harvest, when they harvest, how long a wine needs to spend in the cellar - all of this is heavily controlled.
"These regulations (in theory) are in place to set a minimum standard of quality when it comes to champagnes produced in the region."
When it comes to how champagne - or any sparkling wine - tastes, winemakers can only do so much. At the end of the day, it all comes back to place.
"Australia is warmer than Champagne and the vineyards are a little bit sunnier," Stelzer explains.
"The result of that is grapes ripen more so there is more fruit expression, which means sparkling wines are often fruitier and slightly richer.
"In Champagne, on the other hand, the climate is cooler and the grapes often struggle to reach full ripeness.
"This means the structure of the wine is more mineral, the freshness is a little tighter and there is a little more restraint."
Champagne is also the king of blending, with many of wines produced in the region made from the best grapes selected from a bunch (pardon the pun) of growers.
"The cold climate of Champagne makes for very bright wine styles," Stelzer says. "Chardonnay has the most propensity to stand alone confidently as it is more resilient and less likely to come under weather stress.
"Champagnes made using mostly chardonnay grapes have a zesty, citrus freshness, acidity and tight linear focus. We also know pinot noir and pinot meunier make red wines that are fruity, soft, round and generous, so champagnes made with these will typically be richer with more red-fruit, cherry and plum flavours, and a rich, more supple mouth feel."
POPPING THE CORK
The sound of a champagne cork popping is synonymous with celebrations, fun and happy occasions. But when it comes to maintaining the quality of the wine, the reverse is true.
When you open champagne, you should aim to minimise the pop, aiming instead for a gentle thud sound. This helps ensure bubbles are not wasted.
Champagne is best served chilled, at 8-10C, in long-stemmed flutes or tulip-shaped glasses. Any cooler and the aromas become muted and hard to detect.
Flutes and tulips are designed to enhance the flow of bubbles and concentrate the aromas.
Champagne connoisseurs favour the tulip-shaped flute as it is high enough for the bubbles to rise, but wide enough to give the aromas space for expression.
TRY THESE TOP SPARKLING WINES