A cheat sheet to champagne and other effervescent drinks
I was sitting down to lunch with friends in the south of France a few years ago when someone opened a bottle of champagne. I, of course, got very excited, as did most people sitting around the table.
But someone cut in with a comment that I have continued to think of from time to time. She said that they had noticed that more and more people were opening bottles of champagne at random gatherings. That something that used to be special and rare - usually due to the price - was turning into more of a weekly luxury. From pizza on Friday night to lunches and brunches with friends, it felt like people were popping bottles left and right. She asked if this wasn’t somehow detracting from the experience… a sentiment that we all were quick to disagree with, especially when the bubbles started to take effect.
But I have noticed that people are drinking more sparkling wines lately. But let’s not forget that all that fizzles is not necessarily champagne. I happen to believe that some of the reason we’re able to toast more often Gatsby-style is due to a more delicious and celebrated variety. Take a look below at some French vocab and selections when it comes to les bulles!
The term mousseux literally means all sparkling wines. But you should use it sparingly because, truth be told, the word has a bad rap. Most of the time, when you hear about a French person’s first teenage hangover, it was after drinking mousseux, cheap sparkling wine loaded up with tons of sugar. Recognize the word but move on quickly should anyone offer it to you.
I’m a big fan of crémant… it’s made exactly like champagne, but it comes from different regions of France. For this reason, it’s often less expensive. If you’re feeling like celebrating on a budget, or looking for something just for yourself and don’t feel like splurging, try a Crémant de Loire or Crémant de Bourgogne, like this bottle of Gratien & Meyer or La Grande Côté. These are available at almost any Whole Foods, as well as wine shops and boutiques.
Belovedly referred to as Pet Nat, this effervescent drink started as a favorite amongst hipster foodies but has now become another less-expensive alternative to champagne that you find on more and more menus across the country. Pétillant Naturel is different from champagne because it only goes through one round of fermentation. The liquid is moved from vat into individual bottles while it is still fermenting, and then sealed under a crown cap (so you’d open the bottle like a beer). I love Pet Nat’s slightly malty flavor, similar to a French cider. While there are many delicious bottles of Pétillant Naturel from France (give La Taille aux Loups a try), I’m a personal fan of what comes out of California, such as Scribe’s Riesling Pet Nat.
The Good Stuff
At the end of the day, champagne is champagne. There’s no denying how delicious - and, yes, special - it remains. And there are certain names that should just be known (especially if you want to impress friends at your first post-COVID party). So here’s a list of the famous French Bubbles you should know, starting with the most affordable average prices:
Moët & Chandon ($45)
Laurent Perrier ($55)
Veuve Clicquot ($60)
And then, the OG…. Dom Pérignon, about $200 a bottle.
Cheers to a bubbly weekend!