|Let it be known there are more types of bubbly than French and cheap. Whether you're after an ice-breaker, a leg opener, a party starter or you're just plain showing off, Kate McIntyre runs you through some top picks to ensure you start off on the right drop.
Feeling frisky? Want to impress that special someone with a fizz that'll make him swoon right into your arms? Well keep away from the Norman's Conquest - don't want to be obvious, cheap and tacky - and slide on over to the French section. I'm talking Champagne - the real thing. French is the language of love and there is nothing so seductive as the gentle sigh (please, don't pop) of a cork being removed from a bottle of Louis Roederer or Veuve Cliquot. That golden colour, fine mousse, the nutty complex aromas, the creamy foaming mouthfeel and wonderful persistence and length - need I say more (except that I'm still talking about the Champagne here)? Look out for the less famous brands and you'll pay less for more - Devaux is a smart little number, as is Drappier and look out for the lovely, yet near unpronounceable Chartogne-Taillet. The smart choice is a non vintage Champagne. These are not only cheaper than the vintage wines, but generally more generous on the nose and palate and more suited for frivolous lovemaking.
Need to Impress? Dinner with the upwardly mobile? Want to take something a little different that's not going to break the bank? Maybe even something that'll impress the pants off your yuppie mates? Wow them with a sparkling Burgundy - either something fresh and fruity, like the Tatachilla sparkling malbec, or blast them with sparky Marquis' foxy little number: The Vixen. Made from shiraz and an explosion of ripe berry fruit and spice, this will make everyone sit up and take notice - how to out-cool the coolest customer.
First Date. You're shy. You want to impress, but you don't want to intimidate. The first date is not the time to crack out the finest Champagne - this is a sign of expectations higher than the price tag. For even a hint of a second date it's generally best to work up to these things. Instead buy something a bit kooky - Henkell Trocken for example. A dry sparkling wine (Sekt) from Germany made from riesling - this is a very friendly and inexpensive little ice-breaker - light the candles, spark up some music and bring out the bottle. You never know where an offer of Sekt will get you.
Fizz on a Shoestring. You got 10 bucks in your pocket and you need a bottle of something drinkable? Fortunately for you, we Australians have perfected the art of making decent cheap fizz. Seppelts and Yellowglen are always a good bet - Fleur de Lys NV will never let you down - fresh and fairly dry, with a good fruity finish - it's hard to believe it's still this cheap. Omni and Yellowglen Yellow are also good standbys, although the Yellow is quite sweet which isn't always a bad thing. Chill it down nice and cold and it'll be just the thing.
Loaves and Fishes. You invited 60? And they all said yes? Well best you think of a way to give this marauding hoard a drink that makes them go home wishing they were as accomplished a party thrower as yourself. In this case, a really good Champagne punch or cocktail is what's called for. A simple punch calls for loads of sparkling - well chilled. Use a cheapie - Asti Spumante gives a lovely fruity tingle to the concoction, or a simple Cockatoo Brut. Mix this, in a large bowl, with a couple of disembowelled passionfruits, a tin of pineapple juice, a pot of cold tea (the secret ingredient), sliced orange, lemon, lime and a handful of fresh mint.
A super delicious and evil cocktail that's always a hit involves a martini glass, a nip of gin and a nip of Midori, a good slosh of a dry sparkling wine - try the Freixinet Cava from Spain - and a slice of star fruit for garnish. Put these ingredients together and your guests will be dead impressed, pronouncing it pukkah as they go sliding down the banister, as all groovy young foodies are wont to do. After a couple of these however, the banister should be kept out of bounds as nasty accidents can occur when bubbles and gin go to people's heads.
Christmas Crackers. Christmas day can be stressful enough, without having to choose a bubbly to keep everyone happy. If your family all enjoys a good tipple, it's easy - get everyone to bring a really good bottle of Champagne - preferably Krug to drink at breakfast and Louis Roederer Crystal and Dom Perignon for lunch by the pool. If, for some unbeknownst reason, someone has an issue with spending $160+ on a bottle of bubbly, then you have a problem. A good solution is a case of sparkling Chenin blanc from the Loire - a good one is Blanc Foussy - it's French and it's cheap. What more could you ask for? Buy a good quality bottle of Cassis, put a splash in each glass of fizz and voila (pardon my French) - Kir Royal. For the drivers and sweet-tooths of the family, get in a few bottles of Moscato d'Asti - sweet, frizzante, with bright apple, honey and grapey flavours. With only 5% alcohol, this is a refreshing style of wine for a hot Australian Christmas.
Contrary to what Indy car drivers and women on hens' nights would have you believe, firing the cork out of a Champagne bottle is pretty uncouth. Actually, it's just bad taste not to mention a frightful waste when the contents of your bottle plop to the floor. A Champagne cork should be removed with as little noise and agitation to the drink as possible. Here're some tips to help you pull it off properly.
* Undo the cage (the wiry thing wrapped around the top of the bottle) with one hand while the thumb of the other hand holds the cage in place. Any excess pressure stuck in the bottle can shoot the cork out when the cage is loosened.
* Hold the bottle at about a 45 degree angle with one hand at each end.
* Now firmly hold the cork in place and using the hand at the bottom of the bottle, rotate the bottle not the cork. The aim here is to remove the bottle away from the cork rather than the cork from the bottle.
* Eventually it will go pssssst - you did it.