As with table wines, the proper service of champagne and dessert wines enhances their enjoyment. The temperature at which these wines are stored and served is important. Glassware, too, makes a difference and is an important consideration.
Champagne does not necessarily benefit from aging. It is mature and can be enjoyed right after it is produced. Stored properly, it may be kept for several years at a cool, constant temperature and not exposed to light. It should be stored horizontally to keep the cork moist and retain its elasticity. This keeps the gas in and the air out.
Champagne is served cold, at about 38-43 degrees F (7 degrees C), to fully appreciate its bouquet and taste. Chill an unopened bottle in a bucket of one-half ice and one-half water for 20-30 minutes, or refrigerate it for 3-4 hours.
To open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine, remove the metal foil covering the cork. Twist the metal loop to the left and remove the muzzle, holding the bottle firmly by the neck with your thumb over the cork.
Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to transfer pressure away from the cork and direct it to the sides of the bottle. There is about 70 pounds per square inch of pressure behind the cork, so always point the bottle away from guests and any breakable items.
Cover the bottle with a napkin and gently turn the bottle in one direction. Turn the bottle and not the cork. The cork should not pop; you lose bubbles when you pop the cork. It should come off with a quiet sigh.
Before pouring, wipe the neck with a clean cloth. To pour, hold the base firmly in one hand with the thumb in the punt of the bottle and the fingers spread out along the barrel of the bottle.
Pour an inch or so into each glass. Allow the froth to settle, then go around and fill to about two-thirds full.
A bottle of champagne need not be consumed in one sitting. If it is properly closed with a champagne stopper and refrigerated, it can be kept for several days.
Champagne glasses come in various shapes. Long-stemmed flutes or tulip glasses are designed to enhance the flow of bubbles to the crown of the glass and concentrate the aromas of the wine. When drinking from these glasses, tilt the head back and let the champagne flow over the tongue.
Saucer, sherbert and coupe glasses have wide, shallow bowls. They are not the best choice for experiencing champagne because they do not concentrate the bouquet and the bubbles disperse too quickly. To drink from these glasses, you must bend your head over the glass and this disrupts the flow of liquid over the tongue.
Dessert wines get special care, too.
There are special considerations for dessert wines as well. The first thing to know is that dessert wines fall into two categories:
Fortified wines, including port from Portugal, port-style wines from other regions, sherry and Madeira, have spirits (usually brandy) added after fermentation to raise the alcohol content and sweetness.
Unfortified dessert wines, such as ice wines and Sauternes, derive their higher alcohol content and sweetness from the not-yet-fermented juice being concentrated through various methods.
Among fortified wines, port is probably the best known. It comes in several styles. Ruby port is the youngest, most tannic and most fruit-forward. Tawny port is exposed to air as it ages in oak barrels, which gives it a darker color and a toasted-nut taste.
Vintage port is rare, expensive, and must be matured in the bottle for at least 10 years. Vintages are declared only two or three times a decade. This drives up the price for this heavy, complex wine.
Fortifed wines are served at room temperature or slightly chilled. The traditional port glass is slightly smaller than a standard white wine glass, holding 5 or 6 ounces. Because port is a fortified wine with an alcohol content of 19-20 percent, servings of just 2-3 ounces are standard.
Ice-wine (or Eiswein) grapes are normally frozen on the vine. When they are pressed, ice crystals remain in the grapes and produce a sweet, syrupy wine.
Sauternes, which refers both to the golden wine and the French appellation it comes from, gets its flavor and sweetness from a fungus and can command prices of up to hundreds of dollars.
Botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot”, withers the grapes on the vine, resulting in an intensely sweet wine with a honeyed-taste.
Purists insist that dessert wines are dessert, but many people like to combine them with dishes that bring out their nuances. A dessert wine should be as sweet as the dish it accompanies and match the flavor.
Serve the wine in 2-3 ounce portions to keep it from being overwhelming. Ice wine and Sauternes consist of highly concentrated grape juice and are best served very cold.