Champagne Tasting · 29 December 2006
This week has been stomach recovery time. Between recouping from Christmas and dutifully plowing through leftovers, I haven’t had the inclination or necessity to cook much.
But with New Year’s and its attendant parties right around the corner, food planning is once again kicking into gear. Here’s some information that may be handy for anyone celebrating the upcoming weekend.
Everyone in our family chips in at playing Santa to stuff the stockings. This year Sister-Santa bought 187ml bottles of champagne as part of her contribution. When she suggested we chill the bubbly and serve it with the afternoon snacks, I in turn suggested that we turn it into a tasting event.
The bottles were summarily placed in the fridge, the presents were opened, and eventually the unwrapping carnage was cleared. The fruit and cheese plate were then duly prepared and the tasting began. Though I set up the test, I’ll call myself a blind participant anyway. I used Christmas stickers to tag each glass then wrote down the brand each tag corresponded to in a notebook. I poured the champagne, put away the key, and then promptly forgot which brand was in which glass. During the taste test, the champagnes were referred to as “Santa”, “Santa Head”, “Penguin”, and “Wreath” in honor of their sticker logos.
If you’re planning a tasting event of your own, I’d recommend setting up an ice bucket to keep the champagne chilled between tastes, otherwise it warms too quickly and changes character. Being family, we shared glasses and passed each champagne around but if you don’t, then make sure to rinse each glass between champagnes so you don’t mingle the flavors. Also, have a nice array of fruit, cheese, and salty snacks to bring out the different textures in the champagne. Our plate, which you can slightly make out in the background of the picture, included: Red Bartlett pears, Fuji apples, navel oranges, Gouda cheese, Brie cheese, white Stilton cheese with cranberries, pate, a selection of crackers, green olives with pimientos, and miniature sweet pickles.
The taste test started with 4 champagnes, and 4 participants. My grandmother felt a bit flustered trying to describe exactly how everything tasted and didn’t have much to add to the commenting process. My sister is probably the best connoisseur among us. She’s the one who suggested that we try each champagne with a variety of flavors. She also has a love of champagne that exceeds the rest of the family. My mom and I are middling champagne drinkers. I enjoy a good champagne over the holidays, but I don’t seek it out during the rest of the year. I’m not willing to splurge on champagne, so I usually just skip it in favor of other food products. My mom is a red wine lover, and her palate is more suited to that but we all did our best in pursuit of the cause, drinkable and affordable champagne for New Year’s.
Ready, Set, Drink!
Comments are arranged in the order they were presented, so the first comment is the first person who tasted. As you will see below, we all had differing opinions which we later attributed mostly to warming, despite our best efforts to keep the champagne iced between rounds. Due to the wide variety of opinions on the first taste, after the official tasting, we poured the rest of each bottle from the fridge and re-tasted the champagnes while they were still cold. Our second impression, as a group, is featured in the “wrap up comments” and offers a better idea of the consensus on each champagne.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
Kim – Slightly dry, not too sweet, crisp with a nice fruity overtone. This was excellent with the white Stilton with cranberries.
Sister – Smokey flavor with a strong alcoholic smell, apple brings out the citrus and subdues the smokiness, also good with the orange
Mom – Sweet yet subtle, not a very intense flavor through fruit intensified it
Wrap up comments: This was my favorite from the beginning, but neither my sister nor mom were very impressed. Once we refilled the glasses and they were able to taste it fresh out of the fridge, they changed their minds, and this quickly became the favorite of all. Serve this one cold as it loses a lot of its character even with a slight temperature increase.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
Grandmother – Different
Kim – Dry and subtle, the sweet dried cherries are a bit overpowering but the salty foods brought out the flavor and a bit of floral touches
Sister – Dry and delicate, tasting with apple makes it stronger and adds citrus overtones, not good with strong flavors like the Gouda cheese which makes it sharp and drier
Mom – Surprisingly flavorful considering the faint smell, good with the Gouda cheese but not the white Stilton
Wrap up comments: Pleasant and light. We ranked this offering as number 3 out of the 4.
Cristalino Sparkling Wine Brut
Mom – Dry and spicy, goes well with apple
Kim – No discernible odor, not very flavorful, takes on the flavor of whatever it is paired with, though cheese brings out a bitter aftertaste
Sister – Slight jasmine smell, light with delicate floral and pear notes, but any food pairing overpowers the smell and taste of the champagne
Wrap up comments: This is another that was much improved with better chilling, but still the group’s least favorite of the bunch.
Martini & Rossi Asti
Sister – Light and sweet finish, orange brings out additional fruit flavors, excellent with the white Stilton
Mom – Sweat, heavy, and fruity, reminiscent of a Sauternes wine
Kim – Orange and honey smell and taste, very sweet but not overly heavy, a touch of vanilla, jasmine, and honeysuckle in the aroma, citrus brings out a nice zing and balances the sweetness, cheese is overpowering, the sweet cherry brought depth to the vanilla tones but overpowers the citrus tones, reminiscent of a Riesling
Grandmother – Very nice
Wrap up comments: This was the only sweet champagne in the group so we judged it separately, and gave it a tie for first place with the Freixenet. This one held its flavor best during the tasting process but we agreed it’s really only appropriate as a pairing with desert and too sweet for general consumption.
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