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5 Things to Know When Buying Champagne

New Year's celebration is just a few days away. That means champagne. And nothing loosens up a crowd (read: women) faster than a little bubbly. Whether you'll be drinking it all night, or just for a private midnight toast for two, you'll need to know what, and how much, to get. And what to do once you get it.

Here's five things every guy should know about champagne:

1 - What is Champagne? All champagne is sparkling wine. But not all sparkling wine is champagne. The difference? True champagne is produced in the Champagne region in northeastern France. If it's made in California from champagne grapes it cannot be called "champagne". It is sparkling wine.

When buying a sparkling wine look for the words "methode champenoise", meaning the wine has undergone a second fermentation in the bottle. This is what creates the bubbles. Lesser quality sparkling wines create bubbles by adding carbonation. Just like 7-Up. Enough said.

Most champagne is made as a "cuvee", meaning it's a blend of three kinds of grapes, two reds and a white, usually Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

If you see "Blanc de Blancs" on the label that means the champagne is made entirely of white grapes and will have a lighter, more elegant taste. "Blanc de Noirs" means it is a white wine made from red grapes, like Pinot Noir, making the wine more full bodied, and giving it a golden color. "Rose" is made by blending in a little red wine and gives the wine a pink color. (Don't equate this with cheap rose wines. Rose sparkling wines are not lesser in quality.)

2 - What Does "Brut" Mean? The level of sugar in sparkling wine determines if it will be dry or sweet. "Brut" is very dry, and is considered the standard for fine champagne. The scale runs as follows:
Extra Brut (Too dry for most people)
Extra Dry (Which is not as dry as Brut, so keep that in mind)
Sec (this is where it begins to get sweet)
Demi-Sec (good with dessert and wedding cake)
Doux (could put you in a diabetic coma)

3 - How Much Should I Spend? This is a matter of personal preference. Rappers sing the praises of Crystal, and wouldn't be caught by the paparazzi drinking anything less. But they can afford the $300+ price tag. You, being the middle class warrior you are, need to be more realistic. You can get a great bottle of California sparkling wine - like Mumm Cuvee Napa NV or Roederer Estate Brut NV - for about $20. And when you're buying five or six bottles for a party, that's a helluva lot easier to handle.

4 - How Much Should I Get? Depends on how loose you want your guests. The average bottle serves six glasses. If your party is going all night, figure about a bottle per person. If you're not partying that hard, figure 2-3 glasses, or half a bottle, per person.

Guy at the liquor store trying to talk you into buying a magnum? And you don't know what a "magnum" is? Easy. It's a bottle equivalent to two regular bottles of champagne. If you really want to impress your guests, get a Jeroboam. That big boy is equivalent to four bottles. And women love a guy with a big bottle.

5 - How Do I Serve It? One word: cold. Champagne is meant to be served between 43 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means you should put it in the fridge for 2-3 hours before the party. Don't have that kind of time? Never put champagne in the freezer. The contents are under pressure and the bottle tends to explode in freezers. And you don't want to pop prematurely. You can chill it in an ice bucket filled with half ice and half water for about a half hour. And if you sprang for the Crystal and don't want the label soaking off in the water before your guests can see how much you spent? Don't worry. Champagne labels are adhered with waterproof glue. The label isn't going anywhere.

Once the bottle is open, pour into thin flutes about three quarters full. Never fill the glass to the top. And never use wide, shallow glasses. Flutes preserve the bubbles. And you know how she loves it when the bubble tickle her nose.


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