Have you ever wanted to try champagne, but are worried you won’t like it? Champagne can be one of the most expensive drinks you can buy, so before you order a glass at your favorite bar you will want to be sure you will enjoy it. After all, champagne might be very sophisticated, but it isn’t to everybody’s taste!
So, what does champagne taste like? Most champagnes have a complex palate of flavors, including taste notes such as peach, cherry, and almond. Some champagnes also have citrus notes, as well as flavors of green fruits like apple or pear. You may also be able to detect a creamy flavor or hints of toast, depending on how the wine has been finished and aged.
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about champagne and see if we can convince you to give it a try!
What Is Champagne?
A glass of something fizzy is the perfect way to celebrate a special event, or even just as a treat at the end of a long day! But although other sparkling wines such as prosecco and cava have exploded in popularity in recent years, champagne remains the top choice for many wine connoisseurs.
But what exactly is champagne, and what makes it so special?
Champagne is a sparkling wine that originates from the Champagne region of France. As far back as the 17th century, champagne was the drink of choice of royalty, although it is now widely available to us non-royals as well!
True champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region, using specific approved brewing methods. This means that if you buy a bottle of champagne it is guaranteed to come from France, no matter where in the world you are. It also guarantees that if a sparkling wine does not say champagne on the label, it is not true champagne.
Champagne should be served chilled, at around 47 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It is normally served in a champagne flute, which allows it to be enjoyed at its best.
The flute shape of the glass accentuates the bubbles in champagne, keeping your drink sparkling right to the very last mouthful.
How Is Champagne Made?
The vast majority of champagne is produced using just three grape varieties – pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay. Small amounts of a few other varieties of grapes are acceptable, such as pinot blanc or petit meslier.
For the product to be labeled as champagne, the grapes must have been sourced exclusively from designated regions within the Champagne region of France.
These regions have specific climate conditions and soil characteristics that give champagne its distinctive flavor. The vineyards that produce these grapes must adhere to specific practices in order for the grapes to be used to make champagne, such as picking the grapes by hand.
Once the grapes are harvested, they are pressed to extract the sweet juice. The skins and pulp are removed from the juice, to preserve the clear white color of the liquid.
This grape juice is put into a large tank where the first fermentation takes place. This is a natural process where yeast converts the sugar in the juice into alcohol. At the end of this first fermentation, the wine is completely dry and tastes very acidic.
Next, the fermented grape juices are blended to create the unique flavor of champagne. Each champagne house has its own secret blend, with many using vintage reserve wines blended with this year’s harvest.
Now, the magic really starts to happen! A mixture of yeast and sugar is added to the blended wine, and the liquid is put into champagne bottles which are sealed with a cap. The sugar is fermented slowly within the bottles, producing carbon dioxide at the same time.
It is this carbon dioxide that produces the fizz in champagne – a completely natural carbonation process!
This secondary formation takes a few months, but the bottled champagne will be left to age after this. The aging of champagne can have a huge influence on the flavor, as the yeast from secondary fermentation dies and blends with the wine. Premium champagne brands are often aged for five years or more!
Once the champagne is aged, it will contain some sediment that must be removed. This process is called riddling. The bottles are stored upside down, causing the sediment to lie in the neck of the bottle.
The neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap removed, and the frozen sediment is pushed out by the pressure of the carbon dioxide. Clever stuff!
Finally, a mix of white wine, sugar, and sometimes brandy, is added to top up the bottle and adjust the sweetness level – this is called the dosage. Each champagne house keeps its dosage top secret, as this determines the final flavor of the champagne.
The finished wine is corked, using a wire cage to hold the cork in place under the pressure of the remaining carbon dioxide in the bottle.
When buying champagne, look for ‘Methode Traditionelle’ on the label, meaning it has been made using traditional winemaking methods rather than the faster bulk fermentation used to make cheaper wines.
What Does Champagne Taste Like?
Experts describe drinking champagne as an experience for all of the senses – color, aroma, texture, flavor, and even sound!
There is no sound quite like the pop of a champagne bottle, then hearing the sound of champagne gently fizzing as it is poured into a champagne flute.
In the glass, it should be crystal clear, with a pale golden blond color. You should see a constant stream of tiny bubbles rising to the surface, which form a ring around the surface of the drink.
The aroma will be very subtle, but you should normally detect scents such as citrussy or floral notes, or hints of strawberry or cherry fruits.
But now we’ve got all the aesthetics of champagne out of the way, it’s time to answer the real question of the day – what does champagne actually taste like?
Champagne has a flavor profile quite unlike any other type of sparkling wine. This difference is mainly due to the type of grapes and production method used to produce champagne.
Most champagnes have a complex palate of flavors, including taste notes such as peach, cherry, and almond. Some champagnes also have citrus notes, as well as flavors of green fruits like apple or pear. You may also be able to detect a creamy flavor or hints of toast, depending on how the wine has been finished and aged.
Champagne should also have a delicious velvety mouthfeel, with tiny light bubbles that burst on your tongue. The bubbles are far finer than in other types of sparkling wine like prosecco and cava, due to the complex secondary fermentation process that takes place within the bottle.
It is this delightful sparkling mousse-like texture that gives champagne the nickname ‘bubbly’!
Does All Champagne Taste The Same?
Not all champagnes taste the same, and many people have a preferred brand or type.
The main factors that affect the flavor of champagne are the grape variety, the production method, and the age of the wine.
Champagne with a high proportion of chardonnay grapes will have a fresh, citrus taste, with an aroma reminiscent of lime blossom.
Pinot noir grapes add depth of flavor to the champagne, with taste notes including violets, peonies, and cherries.
The third grape commonly used to make champagne, pinot meunier, is floral and fruity and adds an aroma of fresh strawberries.
The flavor of champagne will be altered according to the mix of these three grapes that are used, as well as whether any other less-common grape varieties are included.
Each champagne house will also have a secret mix of wine and sugar that is added to the finished champagne to create a unique flavor profile.
In terms of the process used to make champagne, the best flavors come from those made using ‘Methode Traditionelle’, which will be indicated on the label of the bottle.
The aging of champagne can have a huge influence on the flavor, as over time the yeast from secondary fermentation dies and blends with the wine. Premium champagne brands are often aged for five years or more and will taste very different from young champagne.
Young champagne tends to taste fresher and more fruity, while vintage champagne may develop flavors such as brioche, bread, and biscuits.
The reason for this is that during the aging process following secondary fermentation, yeast cells split open and infuse yeasty flavors into the champagne.
Some of the most famous champagne brands have noticeable differences in flavor, and wine connoisseurs claim to be able to identify these in a taste test.
Cullier Brut Perpetuel Champagne is a premium brand, known for flavor notes including red fruits and cherries. These blend together to create an intriguing taste that many people liken to candied fruits!
Moët & Chandon is a world-famous brand of champagne that has dominated the world of sparkling wines for nearly 300 years.
This premium champagne has a complex taste profile which is fresh and bright, with apple, lemon, and chalk flavors. Underlying these are richer tones of honey and bread.
Taittinger is one of the world’s greatest champagne houses and is one of the few champagne makers who are still family-run. Made from a carefully formulated mixture of chardonnay and pinot grapes, Tattinger is aged for almost four years before it is bottled. This gives it the famous brioche flavor profile that this brand is famous for.
Dry Vs Sweet Champagne – Taste Comparison
The other factor that affects the flavor of champagne is the level of sweetness. This will be indicated on the bottle using terms such as ‘brut’ or ‘extra sec’.
However, the terminology used to describe the sweetness of wine can be very confusing. Many people assume that a dry wine is not at all sweet, but this is not the case!
A wine that is labeled as dry or extra dry will often have a hint of fruity sweetness. This comes from the variety of grapes used, which have a natural sweetness that persists even when the sugars have been fermented into alcohol.
If you want champagne that is not at all sweet, then one labeled as brut is the best choice. The very driest is brut nature, with as little as three grams of sugar added per liter of wine. A dry wine could have as much as 32 grams of sugar added per liter.
But how does sweetness affect the flavor of champagne?
Without any added sugar at all, champagne is very acidic with prominent sour flavors. It is incredibly tart – think of it like sipping on lemon juice! But add sugar to lemon juice, and you get a very palatable lemon curd.
This is the same process by which bitter coffee can be made more palatable by adding sugar.
The very driest form of champagne, brut nature, contains very little added sugar. This form of champagne is somewhat of an acquired taste, but the lean, tart flavor is enjoyed by many.
Now we’ve got the flavor of champagne figured out, let’s take a look at some other common questions about this popular sparkling wine!
What Is The Best Way To Serve Champagne?
If you’ve splashed out on a bottle of champagne, you’ll want to serve it correctly to enjoy it at its very best! Firstly, your champagne must be thoroughly chilled to between 47 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Four hours in a refrigerator should be sufficient, or just half an hour in an ice bucket.
Next, you need a suitable glass – ideally, this should be a champagne flute, although it can also be served in wine glasses. The design of champagne flutes helps to retain and enhance the bubbles in champagne, due to the narrow shape and small surface area.
Holding the bottle by the bottom, slowly pour the champagne into the glass. Tilt the glass to allow the liquid to run down the side to preserve as many of the bubbles as possible. If the liquid starts to froth, allow it to stand for a minute or two before slowly pouring more champagne.
What Is The Difference Between Champagne And Prosecco?
Both prosecco and champagne are regional specialties, and the very best brands are those that come from their country of origin. True prosecco is made in the prosecco region of Italy, and champagne can only be labeled as such if it comes from the Champagne region in France.
A good quality prosecco will have a delightful apple-like flavor, with hints of peach and honeydew. Depending on the dryness and age of the bottle, you may also be able to detect other taste notes such as citrus or lemongrass.
The aroma of prosecco is often likened to honeysuckle, with an intense floral scent.
Champagne has a very different flavor profile due to the grapes and production method used. Most champagnes have a complex palate of flavors, including peach, cherry, almond, cream, and toast!
Champagne should also have a delicious velvety mouthfeel, with tiny light bubbles that burst on your tongue.
How Alcoholic Is Champagne?
The average alcoholic strength of champagne is around 12.2% ABV. This is similar in strength to most white wines, but not quite as strong as the average red wine.
However, champagne is normally more alcoholic than some other types of sparkling wine. Prosecco can have an alcohol content as low as 10.5% ABV. On the other hand, cava can be as strong as 13.5%.
If you are trying to cut down your alcohol intake, low-alcohol and alcohol-free sparkling wines are also available. You will never come across a true champagne which is free of alcohol, but there are some very good alternatives on the market.