New Year’s Eve is right around the corner — time to break out the bubbly! The holiday is practically synonymous with Champagne, so we sought out tips from one of the restaurants that does it best: New York City’s famed Eleven Madison Park. Wine Director Cedric Nicaise tells us that while Champagne is a must for New Year’s Eve, one trend he’s excited about is that people are starting to drink it all the time — not just for special occasions.
“More Champagne is being consumed now than was five or ten years ago. It’s becoming part of the dining experience, instead of just an aperitif or something to have as a toast. It’s bridging the gap to actually make it onto the table for dinner, not just for cocktails.”
He credits the renaissance to the grower movement in the Champagne world, which has reached full tilt, and also to the relative value of a top-quality bottle. The “Doms, Moets and Veuves of the world” are still putting out excellent wines, so there’s more Champagne available overall, and a high-caliber Champagne is much more affordable than a Burgundy of similar quality. His picks? This year, he says he’s especially excited about the producers Jacques Selosse and Bereche et Fils.
Here, Cedric shares his best tips for Champagne service, on New Year’s Eve and beyond. Cheers!
Go big or go home. Every New Year’s Eve, the Eleven Madison Park team serves Champagne from large-format bottles as part of their tasting menu wine pairings. “The smallest bottle we’ll use is a magnum, and the largest is a six-liter,” says Cedric. “It connects to the festive nature of everything.”
Make a splash. All seven of EMP’s sommeliers work on New Year’s Eve, and they each saber a bottle at midnight — including magnums. “It puts an exclamation point on a night,” says Cedric (if done safely and properly, of course).
Evolve with the food. When it comes to pairing Champagne with food, it’s just like any other wine and food match: start with a light, refreshing, acidic pour, and as the dishes evolve into fuller, richer flavors, let the Champagne do the same. Cedric recommends beginning with a traditional Blanc de Blanc and ending with an oxidative or barrel-fermented Blanc de Noir style.
Pour upright. Often you see people tilting their glass when pouring Champagne, but Cedric says you should always hold it straight up and down to showcase the bubbles fully.
Decant (when appropriate). Depending on the style he’s serving, sometimes Cedric will decant a bottle of Champagne. Some bottles that have spent years on their lees can have a reduced nature to them, and decanting helps open them up and realize their full expression.
Think outside the flute & coupe. “This is definitely a personal preference more than a set rule: I hate coupes, but I also hate traditional Champagne flutes,” Cedric says. He prefers something in between that’s a bit wider than the original flute. At Eleven Madison Park he serves Champagne in Riedel’s Champagne XL flutes (for crisp, tart, high-acid Champagnes) and the Riedel Champagne glasses (for richer, oxidative styles).
Photo Credit: Christopher Villano