Each bottle of Champagne always represents a special occasion and should be treated as such: these are wines with unique characteristics which require a few simple measures to be enjoyed in their entirety. Hence, to taste bubbles at their best, the Laurent-Perrier EHL Alliance Ambassadors (Thierry and Alice) explain how to conduct perfect champagne tasting in three easy steps.
The Maison Laurent-Perrier was founded in 1812 and is now one of the 23 founding members of the EHL Alliance. Please read this article with a glass of Champagne in your hand to practice your tasting skills!
Sparkling wines have the particularity of appealing to all our senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and even touch on the palate and tongue. It is not surprising that, under these conditions, Champagne wines have naturally become ideal for celebrations. All the senses can be solicited to understand the world of these wines and appreciate their characteristics: nuances of colour, subtlety of aromas and degrees of effervescence. The champagnes express themselves and invite you to taste them, although more than "a tasting", we prefer referring to the process as an authentic "sensory experience".
Step 1. Look at what is in the glass
After popping the bottle and pouring the Champagne, we should wait a moment before tasting it and indulge in admiring the wine robe (the wine's "appearance").
The primary consideration relates to the intensity of the colour which can vary from pale, or light to deep. Hue is a notation of colour. A distinction is made between the hue of the wine's body and that of its reflection, which can be seen on the fringe at the rim of the glass. Wines can take several shades: passing through green-yellow, lemon, straw, gold, buttercup, honey for a white Champagne. For Rosé, the range is extensive too, going from peony to orange through to raspberry, strawberry and salmon (Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé & Alexandra Rosé Millesimé), for example. The colour of a Blanc de Blancs Champagne generally has a pale straw colour. Other characteristics that can be described are the brilliance and transparency of the wine, which gives an idea of the age and the making process.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé & Alexandra Rosé Millesimé
Brilliance is the wine's ability to reflect light and can be described as clean, or luminous. Transparency, on the other hand, appreciates the transmission of light by the wine. It will then be qualified as transparent, limpid or crystalline.
In addition to non-sparkling wines, we can consider the perlage (foam and bubbles). The gas release depends on several factors. First of all, the pressure of the gas in the wine, which depends on its elaboration but also on the temperature of service. The colder a wine is, the more carbon dioxide it can dissolve. Secondly, its constitution: the richness in foaming agents will favour the abundance and stability of the foam. The observation of foam can also be impacted by the glass shape (tulip, flute or coupe), the surface condition of the glass (smooth or scratched) and its cleanliness.
Depending on the time endurance, different words can be used to describe the moss, such as fine, sustained, regular or persistent. When the primary foam from pouring has disappeared, we can still observe a thin "string" of bubbles, reminiscent of a pearl necklace in contact with the glass. At the same time, the bubbles of the wine can be described according to their size and persistency. These two elements allow drawing a preliminary conclusion about the quality of the Champagne: typically, the finer and the more persistent the bubbles, the more qualitative the wine.
Step 2. Appreciate the aromas
First of all, our advice on how to appreciate Champagne aromas is not to swirl the wine. Indeed, the agitation of the glass only exacerbates the release of CO² present in sparkling wines. The aromas present in Champagnes can be classified as primary and secondary aromas in an even clearer way than for other wines. The grape varieties used in the production process impose the varietal aromas. For example, Laurent-Perrier uses a majority of Chardonnay grapes to create its wines. This grape brings some fresh aromas of lime blossom, white fruit and flowers, citrus fruits, mint, verbena and fresh grass. When it gets older, it takes on notes of dried fruit, such as hazelnut, ripe apple and honey. On the contrary, Pinot Noir, which constitutes 100% of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé carries aromas such as cherry, red fruits, peony, violet, spices and notes of apricot.
To know more about a wine, we can then think about the secondary and tertiary aromas, which indicate the wine production methods. Notably, Champagnes are sparkling wines produced applying a traditional method, marked by the autolysis of the yeasts during the second fermentation. This adds some additional aromas such as toasted bread, brioche, caramel or fresh butter. Depending on the blends, ages and origins, the range of fragrances is infinite, making each Champagne unique. Hence, during the second stage of the tasting, let yourself be invested by the aromas in order to fully appreciate the exclusivity of each Champagne and the distinctive style of each Maison.
Step 3. Taste it!
Finally, it is the moment to taste the wine, the most sought-after part after all the preliminary analysis. Firstly, we should linger on the abundance and finesse of the bubbles in the mouth. They can be invasive or discreet, aggressive or creamy.
Afterwards, similarly to the olfactory examination, we reconsider all the aromas present in the wine and highlight the ones that strengthen thanks to the actual tasting. A wine made from Blanc de Blancs will have a light, airy, delicate structure. If Pinot Noir is used in its composition, the wine will take on body, structure and richness. Rosé champagne will have even more body and apparent tannins. As the wine ages, it gains additional structure and complexity. In general, this tasting part assesses the balance of the Champagne between its acidity, softness and tannins (present in black grapes). These perceptions together help to create an idea of the body of the wine.
Laurent Perrier Blanc de Blancs
The acidity should be refreshing and sustain the wine, but not too sharp. It can be balanced from the sweet sensation given by the sugar present in the Champagne. The sweetness of a Champagne is impacted by the intervention of the winemaker, who adds the liqueur de dosage or liqueur d'expédition. Depending on the quantity added, we are able to recognize and categorize the Champagne in Brut Nature (no liqueur), Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-sec or Doux. For how long you were able to feel the aromas on the palate? The sensation of the wine's evanescence can be defined as "persistency", which is a hallmark of long-lasting Champagnes.
We are at the end of this article, and probably of your glass of Champagne. We hope that with this brief guide you will be able to fully appreciate sparkling wines and their characteristics from now on.