How to Properly Taste Champagne Using All Your Senses

Pop, fizz, clink your way to becoming an experienced Champagne taster!

Much like wine tasting, Champagne tasting requires all of your senses. This guide will help you through the process of tasting and (hopefully) learn more about enjoying one of the most celebrated beverages of modern society.

Sound

While popping a bottle of Champagne is exhilarating—and often entertaining—the proper way to open a bottle is to control the cork so it “whispers” a sigh of effervescence.

To open a bottle, after removing the wire cage, grasp the bottom in one hand and tilt to a 45-degree angle. Grasp the cork in the palm of the other hand (no towel necessary). Twist the bottle, and tilt the cork slightly to release a whisper from the bottle.

Listen closely, because the whisper will also tell you if something isn’t quite right. If the cork has kept a poor seal, the sound will be underwhelming. But, if you had to fight the cork from popping off into the wall, that can either be a sign that the Champagne was slightly too warm or too young for drinking just yet.

Touch

Often overlooked during a Champagne tasting is the cork. This mushroom-shaped seal develops because of the pressure in a Champagne bottle; it absorbs the carbon dioxide.Take a moment to feel the cork — is it slightly damp on the end or dry and flakey? This will tell you if it was stored properly. Lastly, watch the cork as you taste. A good cork generally begins to regain its original cylindrical shape even if it’s been bottled for several years.

Sight

Champagne is a beautiful sight, and there are several qualities to admire. First, hold your glass by the stem and move to a well-lit area. At eye-level, what do you see in your glass?

Clarity - This is your first introduction to the intensity of the Champagne in your glass. Is it clear? Is it opaque? Older Champagnes are usually denser and more opaque. Younger Champagnes are light-bodied and can be nearly transparent, depending on the blend.
Color - The color of Champagne evolves over time. The life cycle often journeys from pale to straw to golden as it ages. By law, French Champagnes must spend a minimum of 15 months maturing after bottling. Vintage champagnes are cellared for at least three years. But some producers age their wines much longer—sometimes seven years or more.
Bubbles - Tiny bubbles, tiny troubles, tiny headaches — the smaller and faster the bubbles, the finer the Champagne! Scientists have determined that there are nearly 49 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne and up to 2 million in each glass. Unlike clarity and color, bubbles are affected by the shape of the glass and serving temperature. Are they Small? Large? Lively? Graceful? Bubbles help Champagne breathe and release the aromatic molecules when they pop at the surface.

Smell

To swirl or not to swirl? While the bubbles are doing all the work, a little swirl won’t hurt, but it’s less necessary than with still wine. Gently place your glass under your nose. First, notice the intensity of the Champagne. Is it strong or mild? Delicate? Full? Lastly, the aroma, also known as the bouquet, generally falls into one of five categories: aromatic, floral, fruity, mineral, yeasty. Don’t be afraid to use descriptive words — everyone’s nose is different!

Taste

Finally, it’s time to toast! Inhale gently then take a sip; Let it swish around in your mouth. What do you taste? Green apple, citrus, tropical fruits, vanilla, toast, and nuttiness are common notes you might experience. You’re also looking for:

  • Acidity (dry versus fruity)
  • Viscosity (light, medium, heavy)
  • Finish (short, average, long)

After your palate has taken in the first taste, contemplate the aftertaste that lingers on your palate after you swallow. Finer Champagnes will feature long, drawn-out flavors that go on for a while.

Final Thoughts

Champagne, like all wine, is an experience for the senses. Learning to recognize and define the distinctions in Champagne is a beautiful experience and one that you will improve with over time. You may be surprised at the diverse range of qualities in Champagnes.

Finally, no need to save Champagne for a special occasion! As Madame Lily Bollinger, of the famous Champagne-making family, once said: “I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.”

If you’re interested in tasting, learning and enjoying Champagne more often, consider Sherri’s Champagne Club. You will discover Champagnes curated from small, exclusive producers in the Champagne region of France. Club shipments feature six unique bottles two times a year.

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