Champagne is perfect for celebrating -- its light and sparkling quality makes it a go-to drink for special and festive occasions. Here are a few things you should know before choosing a bottle of bubbly:
Champagne is different from sparkling wine. Champagne with a capital "C" can only come from the Champagne region in France, which means it can come with a hefty price tag. However, champagne (with a lowercase "c") from other areas -- usually called sparkling wine -- is moderately priced and can be just as good. To spot a just-as-good-sparkler, look for "Methode Traditionelle" on the bottle's label. This means the sparkling wine has been made the same way true Champagne is instead of with the time-saving Charmat process, which involves bulk fermentation in tanks and results in a lesser quality wine.
Look for a few cues on the label to help you determine if a sparkling wine is dry or sweet.
Editor's Tip: If you see "vintage" printed on your bottle of champagne along with the year, it means that particular sparkling wine was made with what the winemaker considered to be extraordinary grapes. However, if your bottle doesn't have a year listed, it doesn't make it inferior. In fact, when winemakers combine grapes from a variety of years, it allows them to maintain a consistent quality and taste.
For the best bubbles in your champagne, serve it cold (around 45 degrees). To get the champagne to this temperature, chill it in the refrigerator for 3 hours, or pack the bottle in a bucket, tub, or sink filled with ice and water for 30 minutes. Once the bottle is open, keep the champagne cold in a bucket filled with a mix of ice and water.
How to safely open a bottle of champagne: While most people think opening champagne involves popping a cork, the cork should ease out of the bottle with a whisper. Here's how to do it:
Editor's Tip: Champagne and sparkling wines have a lot of pressure inside the bottle, so if allowed to escape, a cork can be dangerous. When opening a bottle, be sure to keep hold of the cork, never point the bottle at anyone, and never leave a bottle half-opened because it could explode later.
Still unsure which bubbly to choose? Here's a list of our top choices for brands of champagne, organized by price.
Bargain Bottles (under $10): If you want to get cheap (but not too cheap!) champagne, look for Italian and Spanish sparkling wines. Spanish Cava (Freixenet Brut) or Italian Prosecco (Mionetto, Lamberti) are great choices. For sweeter sparklers, try a Moscato d'Asti (La Spinetta, La Serra, or Elio Perrone).
Inexpensive Bottles ($10 - $20): Our recommendations for slightly more expensive bottles include Chandon Riche Extra Dry, Piper Sonoma Brut, Sofia Blanc de Blancs, and Lindauer Brut.
Moderately Priced Bottles ($20 - $30): Price doesn't always mean better quality, but if you're willing to splurge on bubbly, go for Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P, Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, or Domaine Carneros Brut by Taittinger.
Before your next party, stock up on chic wine and champagne glasses.
Did you know that champagne bottle sizes vary? Most stores stock a 750-millileter bottle that's the same size as the standard bottle of wine. (This is enough to fill about six champagne flutes.) But some producers supersize their bubbly packages and offer: