Though rich people have been enjoying champagne for centuries, we unwashed masses have made the drink more popular today than it has ever been in its history. In fact, it was during the decades after the Champagne region in France was bombed to rubble in World War II that the popularity of the nectar exploded. In the twenty years following the War, worldwide consumption of champagne quadrupled and is still rising. So if you're not drinking bubbly yet, you're the only one. If you are drinking it, read on! We have a good deal of information that will greatly enhance your enjoyment of your next bottle.


Relax. The best thing about champagne, as compared with regular wines, is that there are significantly fewer choices out there, so you really need to learn only a few classics that are sure to appear on any menu. Of course, if you're purchasing your champagne at a liquor store, your choice will be even easier.
  1. Marque
  2. Vintage
  3. Size of Bottle
  4. Dryness


The first thing you will need to determine is which brand and year you intend to order. Unlike wines in general, the best champagnes hail from only a few sources. By definition, true "champagne" comes only from that region of France that bears the same name. Specifically, the Champagne region is 90 miles northeast of Paris, close to the border with Belgium. Champagnes themselves typically come from one of three areas within that region: Reims, Marne, or Cote de Blancs. Unlike most wines that are named after vineyards, champagnes are named for the houses that produce them. These houses, in turn, produce various brands of champagne, which are known as marques. When you ultimately are forced to select a bottle of champagne, it will be these marques from which you must choose. Mercifully, the list of most famous champagne marques is relatively short, so if you can remember it -- or even just a few items on it -- you will never fail to find something familiar in a liquor store or on a restaurant menu:

Marque Area of the Champagne Region Bollinger Ay Charles Heidsieck Reims Krug Reims Moet et Chandon Epernay G.H. Mumm Reims Joseph Perrier Marne Ruinart Reims Taittinger Reims Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin Reims

While each of these marques is a great champagne, you will need to taste many different marques before you can determine your own preference. But since there is the handy Half-Bottle size available, this should not prove to be a prohibitively expensive habit.


As with any wine, quality varies across the years, in harmony with the quality of the grapes harvested that year and the weather of the harvesting season. Unlike many wines, however, one needn't sample decades worth of champagnes to identify a good year. Champagne is typically held for up to five years by the manufacturing house, but when it is eventually released for purchase, it should be consumed within two years. Choosing a relatively young champagne, therefore, is not considered gauche.

Also, champagne is often blended across years. For a champagne to be considered of a particular year's vintage, at least 80% of the grapes used in producing it must have been harvested in that year. The remaining 20% of the grapes, therefore, can be from other years. Vintners will, accordingly, often blend their champagnes with the "greatest hits" from across the years, which leads to a more uniform quality of beverage. This is yet another reason why choosing any particular vintage of champagne is not that important -- all those of a given marque are quite similar.

For a more precise evaluation of the quality of different vintages, however, check out this Champagne Vintage chart.

Size of Bottle

One thing that is a little trickier about champagne though is the size of the bottle. We know, you're probably thinking: "What are you talking about!?" But trust us, champagne comes in a whole universe of sizes, and basic economics tells us that we should buy only as much as we need and no more. Anyway, knowing some of these terms is sure to wow your date. Consider:

Quarter-Bottle 6.3 fluid ounces Half-Bottle 12.7 fluid ounces Bottle 25.4 fluid ounces Magnum 50.8 fluid ounces 2 bottles Jeroboam 101.6 fluid ounces 4 bottles Rehoboam 147 fluid ounces 6 bottles Methuselah 196 fluid ounces 8 bottles Salmanazar 304.8 fluid ounces 12 bottles Balthazar 406.4 fluid ounces 16 bottles Nebuchadnezzar 508 fluid ounces 20 bottles

Sure, you're not going to have much occasion to bust out the Nebuchadnezzar, but at least you now know that those oversized bottles in vintners' windows aren't just hokey advertising gimmicks. You will, however, need to know Half-Bottle, Bottle, and Magnum. If you are dining alone, or simply want to order champagne to accompany dessert, it is cuter -- and more affordable -- simply to order a half-bottle, which will pour out to slightly more than two full glasses. So, one for you and your date, with a little extra that you can graciously pour into your companion's glass. Of course, a Bottle is the standard order if you are having your champagne over dinner. The Magnum comes in handy if you are at dinner with your date's parents, on a double date perhaps, or even dining out for a corporate occasion. In any setting, though, knowing some of these terms is sure to dazzle your company.


Once you have identified the size, brand, and year of your champagne, for Pete's sake just go ahead and drink the stuff. If, however, you are really trying to impress, then you can take your particularity one more step. The last variable in choosing a champagne is its level of dryness. Champagne is not alone among wines in occurring in various levels of dryness, but it is unique in that the dryness is largely determined by the winemaker. To understand the process of making a champagne dryer or sweeter than usual, you will need to have a grasp on how the stuff is made.

Usually grapes are chosen at the height of their ripeness, when they contain a good deal of natural sugar. Yeast is added to the juice of those grapes, which converts their ample sugar into ample alcohol. The Champagne region, however, is an atypically cool region of France, in which grapes must be harvested before they are fully ripe. Their sugar content, therefore, is too low to make an alcohol of comparable fortitude. Champagne thus has sugar artificially added to it so that the yeast has more fuel to convert into alcohol. Obviously a winemaker can add greater or lesser amounts of sugar to alter the strength of the finished product -- and, of course, adding more sugar is going to make the champagne taste sweeter too. As you enjoy more and more glasses of champagne, you will develop a taste for whether you prefer it dry or sweet.

As a quick guide, here is a list of the levels of dryness that you can choose in your champagne:

Level of Dryness Amount of residual sugar per liter Extra Brut, Brut Sauvage, Ultra Brut, Brut Integral, Brut Zero .6% Brut 1.5% Extra Dry, Extra Sec 1.2 to 2.0% Sec 1.7 to 3.5% Demi-Sec 3.3 to 5.0% Doux (sweetest) 5% and up

Be warned, even if you are a sweet tooth, champagnes rated as Doux should be used only as a dessert wine. The most popular style will be Brut, and champagne makers save their best grapes for this category.