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Party planning: Six steps to hosting a champagne tasting party
Here comes the sun, and with it, a long list of stylish invites: cottage weekends, Sunday barbecues, picnics in the park. This season, shake up your calendar—and amp your summer chic factor—by hosting a champagne tasting party. Sound swish? It can be as fancy or as relaxed as you choose, says Axelle Araud, an oenologue (read: wine expert) at Dom Pérignon. Gone are the days of uncorking a bottle of bubbles solely for celebratory toasts—ordering champagne by the glass, or as a tasting flight, is a growing après work trend, particularly in Paris. As Araud notes, “Champagne creates its own experience.” And hey, if you’re a traditional type, toast summer evenings. We’ll always drink to that.
STEP 1: Choose your champagne.
You’ll want between three and six bottles for your tasting. (You can always ask your guests to bring a bottle as well.) First, a note on lingo: “Champagne” refers only to bubbly produced in France’s Champagne region. Cava, Prosecco, and the like are sparkling wines, but they can be just as fizzy and delightful as the fancier stuff.
Your first choice is to decide if you want vintage or non-vintage bubbles, or a mix of the two. The less pricey non-vintages feature grapes from a variety of different harvests.
Vintage pick: Dom Pérignon Vintage 2002 ($219.95)
When it comes to champagne, Dom Pérignon is just as discerning as you would expect. The iconic French brand’s vintners choose only the best grapes from a single year for a particular vintage. The 2002 is a creamy, slightly smoky blend with notes of almond and lemon.
Non-vintage pick: Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine ($27.95) Crisp and minerally, this California sparkling wine has notes of tart apple and cherry.
STEP 2: Choose your glasses.
Stick with classic flutes for non-vintages, which “preserve the effervescence” of the bubbly, according to Araud. For vintages, opt for a white wine or burgundy glass. As Araud explains, “It keeps the aroma in the glass, but gives the champagne more room to express what it has to say.”
STEP 3: Learn to taste champagne.
If you’ve been to a wine tasting, you already know how to taste champagne. First, hold the glass up to the light to admire the colour and the delicacy of the bubbles. Then gently swirl the glass to allow the champagne to open up by mixing with oxygen. Next, bring the glass to your nose and breathe deeply (As Araud says, “You smell what the wine has to tell you.”). Finally, take a sip, allowing the champagne to move around your mouth to experience its full flavour and complexity. It’s the oenophilic equivalent of trying on a new dress and checking it out from every angle.
STEP 4: Pick your food pairings.
As a rule, think seafood and cheese. Oysters on ice, sushi, and shrimp go well with all champagnes. Brie is a perfect match for lighter champagnes, while cheddar and chèvre mix well with stronger blends. For a sweet finish, fill glass bowls with fresh cherries, raspberries, and blueberries, which bring out the bubbly’s hidden fruit flavours.
STEP 5: Create a mood with décor and music.
These extras will take your tasting from lovely to legendary.
Décor must-haves: A lace tablecloth with silver candlesticks, and candles in pastel hues such as lavender, lemon, and cotton candy, with napkin colours to match. For flowers, opt for tea roses or peonies.
Playlist essentials: A lineup of Gallic talent, including Serge Gainsbourg, iconic chanteuses Françoise Hardy and Juliette Gréco, and modern songstresses such Keren Ann and Madame Sarkozy, a.k.a. Carla Bruni.
STEP 6: Put together a perfect champagne party outfit.
First, choose your muse. If you want a traditional ladylike look, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are your guides. Attracted to the season’s bold prints and juicy hues? Look to modern style-setters like Sienna Miller and Nicole Richie.
1. Hermès Silk 90 x 90 Carré ($420, hermes.com); 2. Banana Republic Pearl Drop earrings ($45, bananarepublic.ca, 1-888-BRSTYLE); 3. French Connection Vanity lace dress ($168, canada.frenchconnection.com); 4. Aldo Croner peep-toe heel ($70, aldoshoes.ca); 5. Banana Republic Monogram Chiffon Swirl clutch ($124, bananarepublic.ca, 1-888-BRSTYLE)
1. Aldo Blacklock bag ($45, aldoshoes.ca); 2. Banana Republic belt ($62, bananarepublic.ca, 1-888-BRSTYLE); 3. French Connection Stretch bracelet ($25, canada.frenchconnection.com;) 4. H&M dress ($69.95, hm.com); 5. Cathy B Jewelry Art Deco necklace in green erinite, emerald, clear crystal and blue Montana ($1,680, cathybjewelry.com); 6. Hermès Cavale shoes ($1,675, hermes.com)