Have you ever seen the painting by Jean-François de Troy “The Oyster Dinner?” So what, you will ask. Well, it is the first painted image of sparkling wine. No bottle, because drinking wine in Versailles was not about product placement, just a bright realistic detail: the cork jumping out upward to the ceiling. The painting was made for the dining-room of Louis ХV, who disliked luxurious decorations of his predecessor, the Sun King. Jean-François de Troy had an eye for details: actually, his painting is a meticulous record of the royal drinking ritual. Let’s look at it closer, from the point of view of contemporaneity.
At the foreground, there are chilling tanks filled with ice. There is also a servant, but it’s not what we are interested to discuss, since in our time it is merely impossible to find a decent servant. However, what is evident, before drinking the wine should be properly chilled. A little bit. Otherwise, it won’t open the heart to you. The best serving temperature is about 7-9C, although wines of famous brands should be chilled up to 9-12С. On the other hand, if you didn’t succeed in making the right choice of wine and are looking for a way to hide possible taste defects, chill your bottle up to 3-4С. Cold conceals defects perfectly. Beside, chilled sparkling wine is easily opened and not excessively foaming: be sure you will not lose a drop and the liquid won’t stain your holiday suit as well as the new dress of your companion. Take note that sparkling wine cannot be chilled in the freezer, because it may suffer from a sudden temperature change. You can either place the bottle to the special chilling compartment for drinks for an hour or two or just take any container looking like a champagne bucket. Keeping the bottle in ice is not recommendable because ice chilling takes too much time. The best way out is to add some ice to the water (in an equal proportion) and to place the bottle in the water with ice for some time. In this case it will be chilled within 15-30 minutes.
Take care not to chill the glass, like we usually do with other drinks. Humidity accumulated inside after the chilling is not good for sparkling wine. Don’t be upset if the foam is too abundant when you open the bottle: it means your bottle’s happy to see you, though, of course, you can always reduce the risk of staining yourself with wine by extracting the cork correctly.
Look at the gentleman at the center of the painting. He has just opened the bottle of champagne hitting it with his saber: it is called sabrage, in other words, a special manner of opening a bottle both with a saber or a knife as well as with the help of other foreign objects. Obviously it was an impressive experience, for the audience is stunned, following the pathway of the cork in the air with admiration and fear. As Kozma Prutkov used to say, “a bottle cork flying high with noise and immediately falling down, that’s what love is”.
There exists also another way of opening the bottle of champagne, less impressive than the one described above, but genuinely more secure. A cork of any bottle of sparkling wine is kept inside the neck with the help of a muselet (a kind of cap made with a piece of wire, which protects the bottle against high pressure). Make sure that the cork is not likely to go out of the neck and remove the muselet carefully. Watch out: if the cork has already started moving out of the bottle, don’t remove the muselet completely, just screw the loop at the base of the wire cap and pull the cork out of the neck. Let it slide out gently and noiselessly. If you have removed the muselet and the cork inside the neck doesn’t move, take the bottle either by the neck or the bottom with one hand and the cork with the other one. Further tilt the bottle so that the liquid could fill the entire inner volume and reach the end of the neck, minimizing thus high pressure, and rotate it still holding the cork in your hand. The wine is expected to give in with a sigh.
And what about the glass? Just see how these gentlemen at the right part of the painting are looking at the liquid sharing their impressions and remarks. Champagne needs to be poured not just in a glass, but in a glass, which highlights its taste and qualities: thin, transparent, full of golden bubbles and covered with the lace veil of foam. Certainly, it’s not about world famous glass brands, it’s just about something appropriate. For instance, a cremant glass will highlight the candy taste of a sweet sparkling wine like Asti. A high flute glass is good for light and young sparkling wines like Prosecco. Finally, a glass wide in the middle and getting narrow upwards is mostly recommended for mature sparkling wine with a rich taste because the fragrance of a mature drink makes up 70% of its taste. Bubbles play freely in the wide part of the glass, but as the circle gets narrow, the fragrance becomes stronger. This way it is concentrated right at the level of smell receptors. Fill you glass for 2/3, leaving some place for fragrance.
Don’t forget about the manner of holding the glass as represented by Jean-François de Troy. Always hold it by the foot and be sure your gestures are natural. Besides, this way you will keep you wine cold for a longer period of time.
The painting tells nothing about the cellars where the champagne was kept, so we will give you some useful recommendations on how to keep sparkling wine properly based on modern wine keeping experience. A bottle of sparkling wine can be kept in a vertical position only for a couple of weeks. If you buy wine in large quantities getting ready to receive thousands of guests all the year round, keep your bottles horizontally, otherwise the cork will dry out and start passing air, which will oxidize your drink slowly but ruthlessly.
A few words about enogastronomy, which has become recently a fashionable and highly popular topic. Hundreds of articles, thousands of books… No doubt, oysters and sparkling wine are a perfect match. But sparkling wine will also match perfectly with any of your personal preferences. For example, here is what says Don Juan by Byron: “As for me, I enjoy sitting near the chimney and everything I can enjoy when I sit near the chimney: lobsters, champagne and a pleasant conversation.” There are no rules for what you love. However, we recommend not to mix wine with vinegar and meals containing vinegar. Remember as well that any strong taste (both spicy, sweet and sour) may enter in conflict with the taste of your drink. As for the rest, don’t be conventional: just enjoy life and drink wine.
Drink it as a king.