According to Tom Stevenson, the Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Champagne, Parisian sommeliers first started decanting demi-sec Champagne in order to enhance its sweetness by reducing the tactile impression of effervescence. Now the practice has spread across the globe and includes almost every type, style and age of Champagne! (Ask Decanter, Decanter September 2011).
Decanting can help tame the most aggressive fizz and soften the mousse of young, non-vintage Champagne. Aerating the wine also helps to release subtle aromas not always apparent in the first glass when the Champagne is directly poured from the bottle. Interestingly, renowned Champagne house Charles Heidsieck also advocates serving Champagne in white wine glasses instead of the more traditional slender flutes, as the wider surface area of the white wine glass enhances the aromatics. (Charles Heidsieck wants to burst your bubble – decanting Champagne, Dr Vino, 23 October 2009).
Typically the prized fine beading and soft mousse of fine Champagne are the result of extended times on lees and post-disgorgement ageing in the bottle – a practice normally reserved for only the best vintage Champagnes.
But according to Stevenson, even vintage Champagnes can be improved by decanting. He offers the following fun, if expensive, experiment:
Buy Dom Pérignon off the shelf and try it side-side with a bottle of the same vintage bought one or two years earlier and you will see that advantage that time brings in softening the mousse. Decant another bottle bought off the self and the result is somewhat between the two.
A couple of years ago, Riedel, in association with Charles Heidsieck, released a decanter specifically designed for decanting Champagne. Shaped like a lyre, it aerates the wine to release the aromas but preserves the bubbles. Ideally the Champagne should be consumed 30 minutes to an hour after being decanted.
Personally, I’ve always found pouring Champagne from the bottle to be an important element of the experience of drinking Champagne, but certainly the Riedel Champagne decanter (pictured above) still has a real wow factor!
Photo Credit: Charles Heidsieck wants to burst your bubble – decanting Champagne, Dr Vino, 23 October 2009.