Champagne 101 with “America’s CEO”- Tim Laird C.E.O. Chief Entertaining Officer

Ring in the New Year by hosting your own New Year’s Eve party, but don’t drop the ball! “America’s CEO- Chief Entertaining Officer” from Brown-Forman, Tim Laird, has several tips to help you ring in the New Year with ease and style!

New Year’s Eve is synonymous with champagne.

More than half of all champagne sales occur just a few days prior to New Year’s Eve. 

But, we should enjoy champagne all year round and not just save it for a special occasion!

  1. How Champagne is made
  2. Types of Champagne
  3. How to open a bottle of Champagne
  4. Glassware
  5. Champagne Cocktails
  6. Alcohol-Free Sparkling drinks
  7. Food pairings with Champagne
  8. Storing your Champagne


How Champagne is made in the traditional French style called Methode Champenoise

The primary grapes in Champagne have been Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  These grapes are picked at a little higher acid level for Champagne than what is used for table wines.  This is because they will go through a secondary fermentation.  The grapes are pressed for the juices and yeast is added to begin the fermentation process.  Once the juice is fermented (now a wine) the wine goes into bottles and additional yeast is added then corked.  The wine goes through a second fermentation where Co2 is created as a by-product and that gets captured in the bottle as bubbles.  This takes anywhere from 18 to 24 Months.  The bottles are then “riddled” or turned often to move the yeast cells down into the neck of the bottle.  Once the yeast has finally all died and are at the neck, the bottles are ready for disgorging and dosed.  Disgorging is freezing the neck so the yeast hardens, then the cork is pulled and the dead yeast flies out under pressure along with a little of the Champagne.  The Champagne is then topped off or “dosage” as it is called with a mixture of sugar blended with mature wine. 

Note that inexpensive sparkling wines put the wine through a second fermentation in large tanks or artificially inject Co2. 


Types of Champagne

Champagne is rated by varietals designation or style of the champagne.  The traditional styles are Brut, Extra Dry, Sec and Demi Sec.  These are rated on level of sweetness.  Brut is the driest or lack of sugar followed by Extra Dry which is a little sweeter then Sec and Demi Sec that are even sweeter.  Note that there are also Asti’s which are traditionally sweet and come from the Asti Region of Italy. Brut is the largest selling type in the US.  Champagne houses also produce a “house” style and can call it by their own designation.  Korbel has “Natural” as their house Champagne.

Grape types are also designated such as Chardonnay or Shiraz.  Other types speak to the color and grape such as Blanc de Noir (white with red), Blanc de Blanc (white on white) Brut Rose (dry with a touch of red). 

Try different styles and see which ones you like.  The most popular styles are Brut followed by Extra Dry.


How to open a bottle of Champagne

Since many are intimidated with opening a bottle of champagne due to the pressure (99 pounds per square inch- three times that of a car tire), here are some tips to open a bottle of champagne just like the pro’s, so you can save it for sipping and not spraying!

Five Easy Steps to Open a Bottle of Champagne:

1. Chill the bottle for at least four hours in the refrigerator.

2. Remove the foil cap covering the top of the bottle, exposing a wire hood.

3. Undo wire hood with six half-turns of the knob.

4. Hold bottle at a 45º angle, with a towel in hand. Grasp the cork tightly and slowly twist the bottle with your other hand. (The big secret here is you twist the bottle, not the cork!)

5.  Ease cork off bottle letting off a small sigh while keeping the bottle at 45º angle for a moment (this lets the air in and helps keep the foam from overflowing the bottle).


Glassware for your Champagne:

Ban the Flute!

Note on glassware: there have been many discussions surrounding the type of glassware to use for champagne. Originally, the coupe or saucer-style glass was used. After many years it was then believed the wide opening would lead to too many bubbles escaping, making the champagne flat. Enter the flute, a long narrow glass which holds very little champagne. 

What glass to use? A white wine glass is perfect to multi-task for this job. It has a wider opening which is easy to pour into and drink from. It also allows plenty of space for added juices to make a flavorful champagne cocktail.  The white wine glass is much more stable than the flute and easier to clean. It does not make sense to start a whole new collection of glasses just for champagne when our white wine glass can answer the call of the bubbles!


Champagne Cocktails

The Champagne Cocktail: Drop a sugar cube soaked with a dash of bitters into a champagne flute and fill with Korbel

The Classic Mimosa:  Two ounces orange juice 4 ounces Korbel

Beyond the Mimosa:  Add two ounces of your favorite juice and top with Korbel.  Juices could include pineapple, cranberry, passion fruit, tangerine or any other slightly sweet juices.  Entertaining tip:  Set out juice stations so your guests can make their own sparkling toppers.  Include lemon lime and club soda for alcohol free versions 

Sparkling Cosmo:  2 ounces cranberry juice, splash of sweet and sour and triple sec fill with Korbel

Kir Royal:  In Champagne flute pour 1 ounce Chambord Raspberry Liqueur and top with Korbel

Korbel Lava Lamp:  To a glass of Korbel, add a splash of pomegranate juice with several pomegranate seeds.  The seeds will continue to float up and down the drink. 


Sparkling Raspberry Punch: (PHOTO ATTACHED)

Two 750-ml bottles of Korbel Brut champagne

Two tablespoons superfine sugar

One pint raspberries

Juice of ½ lime

Dash of Angostura bitters


In a punch bowl, combine all ingredients. Add a block of ice and serve immediately.

Serves 12


Holiday Sparkler:

In a white wine glass, add five ounces Korbel Brut champagne and one ounce melon liqueur. Garnish with red raspberries.


Alcohol-Free Sparkling Drinks

Always be a good host and offer plenty of alcohol-free drinks and plenty of food.  New Year’s can also be celebrated with sparkling concoctions by offering exotic mixers and flavors. 

Use lemon lime soda or club soda as your sparkling base and make cocktails by adding exotic flavors and syrups.  These can include mango, pomegranate, peach, cherry, raspberry and others.  Offer fun garnishes such as blackberries, raspberries and peaches.


Food Pairings with Champagne

Note that almost any food pairs great with Champagne.  Salty items such as oysters and caviar do extremely well as a compliment to the Champagne. 

As a matter of fact, champagne pairs well with just about every food combination so consider champagne as your dinner accompaniment along with or instead of wine.

Recipe ideas for Holiday parties with Champagne

Shrimp in Pastry Cups

3 green onions, finely chopped (white and half the green part)

½ pound cooked shrimp, diced

¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Toss ingredients together.  Spoon into store bought, bite size pastry shells.

Serves 4 to 6.

Beef Tenderloin Toasts  (PHOTO ATTACHED)

Slice baguette into ¼ inch slices, toast evenly on baking sheet with oven set to broil.  Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn.  After a few minutes, flip and toast the other side.  Thinly slice cooked beef tenderloin.  Mix 1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish with 1 cup sour cream.  Place slice of beef on toasted baguette.  Add a small dollop of horseradish cream.  Garnish with very thinly sliced red pepper spear.


Storing leftover Champagne

If you have any leftover Champagne, simply put into refrigerator.  You can cap it with a “spark cap” but I’ve found that the bubbles will last at least for another day.  People also swear that an inverted metal spoon works as well. 

For the next day, any leftover Champagne will make a nice Mimosa for brunch!


Korbel reminds you to celebrate responsibly.


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