Pursuitist chatted with Michelle DeFeo, an executive vice president for Laurent-Perrier U.S., for an exclusive Q&A where we got the skinny on what’s new in the world of bubbly, as well as some critical questions that have been on our mind about the best ways to serve and enjoy the beverage.
What is the difference between a true Champagne and its cousins — Proseccos, Cavas, and Sparkling Wines?
In short, “all Champagne is sparkling, but all sparkling wine is not true Champagne.” Regulations dictate that the “Champagne” label can only occur when the wine is produced in France’s Champagne region and produced according to strict regulations, historically known as a “traditional method” dubbed “Méthode Champenoise.”
Champagne’s cousins, Prosecco and Cava, hail from Italy and Spain, respectively.
When is it appropriate to serve and drink champagne? Is there a specific course of the meal when it should be served?
Just about any time or occasion is right to raise a toast. Brut Champagnes are great with salty foods, for example, and rosé Champagnes with a high percentage of Pinot Noir pair well with flavorful dishes, including meats and rich sauces.
DeFeo suggests the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ($100), which is 100% Pinot Noir, or the Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut ($80) with oysters and shellfish.
A drier champagne style seems to be the most popular. Why are some sweeter than others, and how do these varieties differ in use? For example, should a dry brut be served with appetizers and a sweeter style with dessert? What are some of your favorite pairings?
Brut Champagne is the most popular… the degree of sweetness depends on how much sugar is added at the end the process, and is used to balance the natural high acidity of Champagne. Pair these drier styles with savory dishes, like appetizers, but will work with a wide range of foods … even pizza! “Among my favorite pairings is our Ultra Brut with sushi. The minerality and freshness of the Ultra Brut is very complementary to fresh seafood. White pizza with mushrooms is divine with our Brut NV, or if I’m lucky enough to have a bottle around, with our Vintage Brut 2004 ($70).”
For desserts, try the sweetest style, Demi-Sec. You don’t want the Champagne to be too dry (i.e., Brut), as it will taste bitter alongside the dessert. I’m very fond of the Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec ($40), and wish more people would serve it with wedding cake!
How should one store their champagne?
It’s fine to place a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for the short-term, but not recommended for long-term storage. While it’s best to have a temperature-controlled unit for long-term storage, the most important factors are avoiding heat and temperature fluctuations; other factors that can be detrimental are too much (or too little) humidity, bright lights and vibrations. In general, it’s best to store the bottles as you would fine wine, i.e., horizontally, to prevent the cork from drying out.
How should one determine the best bottles for aging if they plan to start a collection?
We age our bottles in our cellars for years, so they are ready to be enjoyed when we release them. But Vintage Champagnes and prestige cuvées can still benefit from further aging for decades if properly stored. The current Vintage Champagne from Laurent-Perrier is the 2004, one of the most highly rated vintages in recent memory, and I’m sure that in another ten years it’s going to be even more amazing than it is now.
Are there particularly rare styles or vintages that one should acquire now that will go up in value? Magnums have a benefit for size – but do they keep their value and their telltale “bubbliness” as well as smaller bottles?
The vintage and prestige cuvées Champagnes, as mentioned, are the most sought-after by collectors. While little Champagne is traded on the secondary market, the value to the collector is more subjective than strictly economic. As with cellaring fine wines, the collector benefits by enjoying bubbly that can become richer with bottle age . . . to say nothing of the fact that the premium Champagnes (vintage and prestige cuvées, in particular) are produced in small quantities and, as such, always in demand.
In fact, magnums are considered the ideal bottle size for aging Champagne (and wine). The Champagne will age (oxidize) more slowly in magnums than in the standard (750ml) size. Over time, the effervescence will slowly diminish, but again, more slowly than in a standard bottle.
What is the ideal way to serve champagne? Coupes or flutes?
The preference is for the flute, as it’s designed to concentrate the effervescence into a pleasing stream of tiny bubbles rising to the top of the glass. With coupes, however, the wide, shallow surface allows the bubbles to rise to the surface very quickly and dissipate. For vintage Champagnes, many prefer a flute with a larger capacity (not too narrow) that allows for greater appreciation of the aromas and flavors.
Rosé champagne is making a real name for itself. Can you talk a little bit about why this category is a growing trend, and how to select the ideal Rosé?
Dry rosé Champagne is definitely on the rise, and its popularity has grown in the U.S., along with the growing popularity of rosé wines in general. It is also true that rosé Champagne can be the most difficult to produce. When selecting a rosé Champagne, you should look for one that is made in the macération or saignée method to insure that you’re getting the differentiation from other Champagnes that have made rosés so popular.
Laurent-Perrier is a well-known brand name (the largest family-run Champagne house in the world). Are there specific bottles collectors should look out for that will be released soon?
For collectors, I’d recommend the Alexandra Rosé 2004, which debuted last fall, but can still be found in select markets. There have been only seven vintages since the creation of this cuvée, back in 1987 – and the last declared vintage was 1998. This is a very rare Champagne and my pick for collectors.
In addition, every year we release a very small number Les Réserves Grand Siècle, a particular lot of our prestige cuvée that has been aging in our cellars for over two decades. It’s only available in magnums and jeroboams, and in minute quantities. It’s the ultimate bottle for collectors, if they can find one
To saber or not to saber? We’ve all seen videos of experts chopping the head off champagne with a sword or knife, but this just seems like a terrible idea. Is this really something you’d suggest be done to your bottles? If so, why?
Sabering is a skill, and many feel it’s best left to the “professionals.” For those who have mastered the technique, though, it does make for a dramatic presentation! Unfortunately, when you saber a bottle you tend to lose a few ounces of Champagne. To me, that’s unacceptable!