Champagne is an effervescent, sparkling wine produced only in France, in its namesake region. Within this area, the soil and weather conditions produce grapes that elevate champagne to its renowned taste level.
Because champagne pairs well with so many foods, it only makes sense to use it in cooking. (The exception is with tomato-based dishes, as the acidic qualities may conflict with each other.)
In the early 17th century, Dom Pérignon, a monk and cellarmaster, devised a method to improve champagne storage. He was able to decrease the number of bottles and sparkling wines lost to explosions by using thicker glass and latching the corks with string. He was also successful in experimenting with grape blends for improved flavor.
There are many brands of premium champagne as well as a wide range of very good sparkling wines. Rosé and blanc de noirs are partially made with red or black grapes, blanc de blancs are produced from chardonnay grapes only, and cremant champagnes are made with half the effervescence. Base the variety you select – from dry to sweet - on which type of foods will be prepared.
- Brut – Very dry and flexible for a range of dishes that do not require sweet infusion.
- Extra Dry – Less dry and generally used as brut.
- Dry – With some sugar; can be blended into recipes for a hint of sweetness.
- Demi-sec – Sweet; most often used to pair with less-sugary fruits.
- Doux – Very sweet, although not as much as true dessert wines.
Outside of France’s Champagne region, sparkling wines may be processed in the same authentic way, including spumante (Italy) and spekt (Germany). Many other countries also produce a range of sparkling wines, some of which are referred to as “champagne.”
Champagne vinegar and a brandy known as Marc de Champagne also originate from the specific distilling process used in sparkling wines.
It is not necessary to purchase an expensive champagne for cooking. The bubbles and gases are burned off in the heating process. A dry champagne is the most versatile.
Champagne is ready to drink and does not require aging. However, most will keep for at least two years if left unopened in a cool, dark place.
Once opened, recork and refrigerate. The bubbly consistency will remain about 2-3 days.