What makes champagne champagne and where to enjoy it locally
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos provided by The Champangery
The Voice-Tribune’s Editor in Chief, Liz Bingham, asked me to write this feature because I just turned 21 in November and she thought it would be a fun exploratory piece for a newly-of-age imbiber. As it turns out, she was right! I’m so glad she did because I knew nothing about champagne except that it was typically brought out for special occasions. Before I divulge into two of Louisville’s champagne hot spots, let me set the stage and share a bit of what I learned with you.
For starters, I now know that for a sparkling wine to be called champagne, it must originate from Champagne, France. Similar to how we talk about whiskey and bourbon in the grand state of Kentucky, did you know that all champagne is considered sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is considered champagne? Sparkling wine can originate from anywhere in the world, and you’d be surprised how many different countries produce it. I also learned that champagne can be made out of three different types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Finally, I learned that two different processes can make champagne and sparkling wines. One method is the Méthode Champenoise or the traditional method. In simpler terms, all of the fancy expensive champagne goes through this process. Méthode Champenoise requires a second fermentation in the bottle itself, according to Jamie Masticola, Owner of Prospect Party Center. The second method is called the Charmat method. In this method, the second fermentation happens in a large tank, which is why the champagne and sparkling wines are less expensive when made this way, according to Masticola.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you may be planning a special dinner, and you may want to celebrate the day with some champagne. But where to begin with all of the different types? Lucky for you, Louisville has just the place where you can go and try out numerous types of champagne and sparkling wines: The Champagnery. This special champagne haven was started by Charlotte and Brad Stengel and Eric Wentworth and is the only champagne bar in Kentucky. “The Champagnery is a fantastic place to try different sparkling wines because we have a lot of fun flight options where you can taste a small two-ounce pour of three different varietals. It’s a great way to try and see what you like without committing to a whole bottle,” explained Wentworth. “Just by the nature of The Champagnery, we’re also able to pour selections by the glass that you wouldn’t be able to find by the glass anywhere else in the world of sparklings. That’s something that is really fun and unique to us.” Sign me up!
Now let me take you back to my initial preconceived notion that champagne is typically used for special occasions. While that statement is true, Wentworth and Stengel are trying to get rid of that paradigm because they believe champagne can be drunk every day or any day you want to drink it, not just on special occasions. Wentworth said, “Every day is worth celebrating. Of course, it can be enjoyed on special occasions, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be enjoyed on a Tuesday as well. That’s always been one of our goals, to try to bring it down from a lofty unattainable only reserved for special occasions drink to a fantastic wine that you can enjoy every day.” Okay, so how do I choose?
With the lightness of champagne and the acidity in it, you’re able to pair champagne with just about any course and any meal, as long as you find the right pairing. That’s where Tony Majors comes into the picture. Majors is the Beverage Director of The Champagnery and a level three sommelier. Majors puts on many tasting events at The Champagnery and has even kept it going during the pandemic by conducting them virtually. Participating in a tasting will help you learn, for example, the difference between a dry or sweet sparkling wine and if you prefer a white or Rosé sparkling wine. There will be three different tasting events on Galentine’s Day, Feb. 13, and special to-go packages on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. Check out their website for more information at the-champagnery.com.
So how do I begin? “One of the things that Eric and I have found from opening The Champagnery and meeting people there, is you do have people who feel intimidated by champagne, just because they’re not used to drinking it,” said Stengel. “We always remind everyone that each person has his or her first glass of champagne somewhere and that’s why we think The Champagnery is a great place to start. Tony has brought in over 250 different sparkling wines and champagnes from all around the world. He can pretty much prescribe just about any glass of bubbles that would be enjoyed by someone depending on what they might like to drink and the things they like to eat.” You can find your taste preference from trying different types of sparkling wines, then take that knowledge to the retail side of The Champagnery or another wine store in Louisville. “I would suggest asking any of the multitudes of wine professionals that are in Louisville, we have a hotbed of wine talent here,” Majors added.
I was curious about which champagne or sparkling wine would be the best value for the money, given the price range can vary so much on these types of wines. Majors advised, “Given the artisanship that is necessary to create true champagne, the value speaks for itself there. But in terms of really great bargains, the best buys in the world to me are sparkling wines from other countries. We have some great sparkling wines from Argentina, from the United States, from South Africa and from Italy that are just excellent values.” Masticola recommends brands like Korbel, Cava, La Marca Prosecco and Indigenous Selections Prosecco for beginner champagne and sparkling wine connoisseurs. All parties agreed that Veuve Clicquot is the best selling champagne, but Majors explained that Domain Bousquet, an Argentinian Rosé, is the best selling sparkling wine at the Champagnery.
In summation, whether you’re tasting your first glass of champagne or you’re a seasoned connoisseur, the familiar pop of the cork and the fizz of sparkling wine being poured into a flute doesn’t have to resonate with only special occasions. Champagne and sparkling wines of all makes and prices can be, and should be, drunk any day because every day is worth celebrating. After all, as Wentworth says, “It’s hard to frown into a glass of bubbles.”