Your cheat sheet to Champagne and sparkling
28 May 2019
Is there a more revered drink (particularly when celebration calls) than Champagne and sparkling? To help us better understand and enjoy bubbly, we sought the smarts of sommelier Fabio Nistrio, who trained through the Italian Sommeliers Association and was certified as a sommelier in 2010. Hailing from Modena, Italy, Nistrio is the reason the drinks lists at Reign and Esquire Drink + Dine are as diverse, impressive and awe-inducing as they are. The two venues are new to the QVB; the former is a Champagne parlour, the latter a supper-club style restaurant and whiskey bar. Suffice to say, Nistrio’s nose and palate for high-calibre drinks is second to none.
At Reign, where the bubbly generously flows, you’d be forgiven for not knowing which of the bottles to settle on. As far as cheat sheets go, Nistrio says there are just a handful of things to keep in mind before you order at the bar.
1. Don’t overlook local Australian producers
Although a drinks menu may feature many familiar names from the Champagne region of France, Nistro suggests we not shy away from local producers. “Australia is producing some of the world’s finest sparkling,” says Nistrio. At Reign, some of these make up a section aptly titled ‘Aussie Heroes.’ Nistrio says this is because there are a few names who have convinced the world that high-quality sparkling wine comes from Down Under. “There’s Brian Croser [of Croser by Petaluma] who pioneered the Australian sparkling scene, and Ed Carr who is the man behind House of Arras, which I firmly believe is nowadays the top sparkling – we will soon feature a tasting flight with his cuvées,” he says.
Additionally, Australia has some fantastic cool-climate vineyard sites like Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Orange, “all of which, year in and out, grow some outstanding grapes that have attracted many Champagne houses to produce sparkling in Australia,” shares Nistrio.
2. Vintage versus non-vintage: which should I reach for?
Now this depends on the type of event. When it’s a joyous moment to spend with friends – go for the non-vintage style, advises Nistrio. “NVs generally spend shorter time on lees [dead yeast cells and other particles that remain post fermentation] and are primarily designed to be more fruit forward, or suitable for easy drinking.” When it comes to dinner or relaxation, a vintage style is more suited, due to more layers of flavour achieved by extensive ageing on lees. “In Champagne, vintages are only made in very good years, and when we approach those wines, it is a never-ending evolution of different flavours and nuances,” he says.
3. Here’s how to correct your pour
Tilting the glass is essential, holding it at approximately 45 degrees. “A Champagne should be poured while aiming to hit the glass wall, with a delicate, constant flow to avoid carbon dioxide dissolving too quickly,” explains Nistrio. This method will preserve more of the tiny bubbles which contribute to the drink’s flavour and aroma.
4. There is a right and wrong way to enjoy Champagne
Despite the celebratory drink status Champagne has achieved, Nistrio always recommends pairing it with food. “It’s a great food wine with enormous matching combinations. One I love is pairing the NV Perrier-Joüet ‘Blason’ Rosé with our Duck Liver Mousse at Reign,” he says.
“Do not drink Champagne too cold or too warm – the perfect balance is between 5-6 degrees for a NV style and 8-10 degrees for a vintage. If you’re buying bottles, do not store yours refrigerated for a long time as the cork can dry out and allow too much oxygen to be in contact with the wine, resulting in loss of fizz.”
5. Flutes aren’t the ideal glassware
The classic Champagne flute has fallen out of favour in recent years because the little space at the top of the glass doesn’t allow for flavours and aromas to collect and develop. Instead, those in the know reach for tulip-shaped glasses. “We use glassware from Plumm – an Australian design brand – at Reign. The tulip shape allows the Champagne or sparkling aeration, with minimal loss of fizz,” says Nistrio. So if you’re popping open a fancy drop, you’ll want to make the most of it with the best glassware possible.
Let sommelier Fabio Nistrio take you on a journey of sparkling at the newly opened Reign at the QVB.