Tasting and reviewing any wine let alone the world’s most famous sparkling wine can be challenging. Without prior knowledge of the grapes and blending styles, you may feel that your knowledge is too limited to assess a wine.
However, you don’t have to be an expert to properly review and enjoy a wine. In fact, sometimes it’s better enjoyed if you’re not a professional as you don’t overthink the experience.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking to review Champagne at home or enjoy a tasting session among friends, you can use the Bespoke Unit Champagne Sheet.
Discover All Our Champagne Reviews!
Much like our approach with fragrances, we developed our own review formula for Champagne. First used in late 2016, it was tested and approved by both oenologists and Champagne producers.
Designed to facilitate reviews by providing a clear and objectified scoring system, it can be used with little to know prior knowledge in the field. The reader is able to easily understand the criteria under which the Champagne is reviewed and what to look for.
Much like our guide to tasting Champagne, each section is divided by the senses. Some sections are awarded points, which are balanced by the extent that they’ll impact the experience. Meanwhile, others are purely for research and information purposes.
In the following guide, you will quickly learn how to use the Champagne Sheet to keep track of your tasting sessions and compare with friends. However, if you do want to learn how to test Champagne, you can also read our dedicated Champagne tasting guide.
Named the Bespoke Unit Champagne Sheet (BUCS), our review formula is an easy to use and simple reference for tasting any sparkling wine.
In this guide, you will learn how to use the Champagne Sheet. You can also download a blank version to print and use and home! Just scroll down to read about the whole thing or jump to a section that you need:
- Introducing The Champagne
- Understanding The Champagne’s Properties
- Sight: Checking The Robe & Perlage [20 Points]
- Smell: Detecting The Nose & Bouquet [30 Points]
- Taste: Analysing The Palate & Notes [40 Points]
- Summarising The Experience [10 Points]
- Discovering The Best Pairings
- Concluding Your Final Thoughts
- Download The BUCS Champagne Sheet To Use At Home!
Easy and comprehensive. BUCS is by far the easiest and most fun way to assess the wines you taste at home!
After numerous tests, BUCS was first used for our review of Baron Albert l’Universelle in late October 2017. Below is the completed Champagne sheet whilst the full review can be read in the previous link:
As you can see, it’s a full and comprehensive overview of a Champagne on a single A4 sheet. Although no number of words, photos or graphics can fully summarise a Champagne’s experience, it’s the closest we could possibly get.
We simplified the sheet to be as easy to understand as possible without losing any information. Even without any background knowledge in Champagne, you should be able to muddle through just fine.
Let’s now break down what each section means and how they work!
1. Introducing The Champagne
Firstly, the Champagne Sheet starts off with the basics. Simply fill in the brand, cuvée and year at the top. The brand is often easy to spot and the cuvée is simply the Champagne’s name.
If there is no year in the label, then the Champagne is likely non-vintage, which means that it’s been blending with several other harvests. However, if you’re not sure what this means, head to our guide to making Champagne to learn more.
There’s also a space for adding an introduction, which can contain your initial thoughts or how you discovered this wine. Nevertheless, it can be used for any notes that you desire. We often fill this out last as an summary to understanding the Champagne we’re reviewing.
2. Understanding The Champagne’s Properties
Something of a continuation of the previous section, it’s a space dedicated to information that you’ll usually find on the label. If you’re new to all of this, our guide to choosing Champagne takes apart what you can learn from a label.
Taking the time to fill this out before tasting the Champagne will help you prepare. With just a few notes, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect as each of these may affect the blend’s experience.
Most Champagne undergoes a “dosage” before being corked, which includes a little sugar for the final taste. The amount of sugar used is usually indicated on the bottle with terms like “brut”, “extra brut” or even “brut nature”.
Knowing this and what it means can help you know what to expect when tasting. If you don’t know these terms, we break them down in our Champagne choosing guide.
Each vineyard in the Champagne region is classed on what is known as the “scale of crus”. This is largely used to set grape pricing between producers but is often indicated on a bottle as a sign of quality.
If nothing is mentioned on the bottle, then it’s just a “cru”, which is the most basic yet officially recognised Champagne grape class. The other categories are “grand cru” and “premier cru”, which you can learn more about in our Champagne geography guide.
There are a number of way that Champagne can be blended, which will affect its overall flavour and composition. One particularly famous variant is rosé Champagne, which can be achieved in two distinctive ways.
Usually this is indicated on the bottle. However, if it’s the classic “méthode traditionnelle” or “méthode champenoise”, it may say nothing at all. You can learn about the different blending styles and what they bring in our guide to choosing Champagne.
Similarly, the grape composition is an important element that you can add just below. Over time, you’ll notice that different grapes grown in different areas have their own characteristic aromas and taste. Taking note of this can help you along the way.
However, not all Champagnes will openly state their contents. Nevertheless, this can be found out with a little research on your favourite search engine.
3. Sight: Checking The Robe & Perlage [20 Points]
Before jumping straight in after properly opening your Champagne, it’s always worth taking a close look at what it looks like. Not only is Champagne pretty to admire but colour, clarity and bubbles say a lot about a sparkling wine’s quality.
Firstly, the hue and clarity go hand in hand but are different aspects. The hue looks at the yellow tones, which can range from pale straw to amber. Meanwhile, the clarity considers how transparent the wine is.
Ideally, you want a Champagne that’s rich in colour but quite transparent, which means that it’s properly fermented.
Similarly, the bubbles or perlage can affect the Champagne’s experience. As our guide to tasting Champagne explains quite well, small and lively bubbles help the Champagne breathe by quickly releasing a greater quantity of aromatic molecules.
They’re also more effective in stimulating the palate’s receptors and suggest a more refined ageing process.
4. Smell: Detecting The Nose & Bouquet [30 Points]
After having properly studied the wine’s appearance, enjoying its aromas is the next step in tasting Champagne. A precursor to the wine’s flavours, they’re a great indication of what is to come.
Overall, we use the following criteria to assess a Champagne’s nose:
- Intensity: The fullness of the detected notes.
- Complexity: The nose’s intricacy and level of refinement.
- Diversity: The variety of notes detected.
- Lucidity: How vivid the notes can be clearly identified.
Furthermore, we also cover the quality of the notes themselves for a more comprehensive analysis. This is split into two scores consisting of the 1st and 2nd noses. Finally, the detected notes themselves are carefully listed out below.
Whilst the 1st nose defines the initial aromas that you experience, the 2nd nose is what you get after persisted inhaling. In fact, the 2nd nose is quite important as it often indicates the Champagne’s level of complexity and hidden character.
As the nose and bouquet represents 30% of the Champagne’s final score, it shouldn’t be overlooked. Usually helped or hindered by the quality of the perlage, the nose directly affects your sense of taste when drinking the Champagne.
This means that it’s a very important factor in assessing its overall quality. Therefore, we made sure that it was attributed more points than the robe and perlage yet less than the palate and taste. Just remember to use the right glasses!
5. Taste: Analysing The Palate & Notes [40 Points]
Now that you’ve thoroughly tested the visual and olfactory properties of the Champagne, the time has come to taste it. As this is one of the most important sections, it’s almost the most complex. Nevertheless, we’ve carefully simplified it without losing any detail.
Before breaking down the aromas and notes themselves, we evaluate a Champagne based on the following characteristics:
- Intensity: The Champagnes’s richness in flavour.
- Acidity: The mouthfeel’s level of dryness.
- Yeast: The presence of yeast detected in the flavour.
- Texture: The Champagne’s viscosity in the mouth.
- Maturity: The Champagne’s complexity with regards to ageing.
- Length: How long the Champagne’s aromas endure on the palate.
Unlike the previous sections, you may also notice that not every factor has a potential score of five points. Instead, some are marked out of three or four. This has been done for two reasons.
Firstly, certain considerations are easier to scale on a factor of three. For instance, the Champagne’s length can be difficult to summarise beyond “short”, “medium” and “long”.
Of course, with experience, you can begin to add half-marks such as “medium-long”. However, this can be challenging without a wide scope of references.
Another reason is to what extent these factors can impact the overall experience of a Champagne. Certain aspects affect the Champagne greater than others whilst some even interact with one another.
Similarly, you’ll notice that some considerations such as yeast and acidity are present in the section above. However, they may also be regarded as notes in the pyramid below. Here we evaluate how these properties affect the overall flavour profile whereas the palate notes consider the aromas themselves.
In fact, the principles of fragrances and wine are quite similar. Both consist of aromatic compounds that produce certain notes that can be interpreted by the senses. These independent notes reveal themselves at different rates due to their volatility and interact to create accords.
Therefore, in order to accurately yet simply describe these fluctuations, we break the sensory journey into three phrases. When describing fragrances, we talk about the head, heart and base. With wine, they’re referred to as the “opening”, “heart” and “finish”.
Each of these phases are rated out of a potential total of five, which comes to a total of fifteen points. They are evaluated according to their vividness, complexity and overall pleasantness.
Although we endeavour to be as objective as possible, evaluating how something tastes will always be somewhat subjective.
The opening is the first burst of aromas that are detected when the beverage comes into contact with the palate. Like fragrances, they can consist of citrus and fruity notes. As they’re quite volatile, they rarely linger and fade away to reveal more intricate, heart notes.
Meanwhile, heart notes are named thus as they are central to the flavour profile, which bridge the opening and finish. Their aromas tend to be more complex and hard to detect because they’re either subtle or fleeting. However, sometimes they can linger throughout the finish.
Finally, the finish as the name suggests are the final notes experienced when tasting a wine. However, detecting them doesn’t necessarily suggest that the flavours have ended.
In fact, they can linger for a while and exceptional wines have a long, drawn-out finish. Typically, a Champagne’s finish features yeasty and mineral notes, which are complex and dry.
Interestingly, the the mineral notes are reminiscent of the soil in which the grapevines were grown.
Meanwhile, the yeast notes can vary in intensity and its impact on the whole experience is marked in the section above. Depending on the yeasty notes’ characteristics, they can be associated with different types of pastries, breads and baked goods.
Notes Are Not The Ingredients
Neither fragrances nor wine feature the described notes as ingredients. With regards to fragrances, they’re an assortment of synthesised compounds that produce familiar aromas that are reminiscent of various smells.
Meanwhile, the ingredients that compose a wine release chemical compounds during fermentation. These can range from gases, aldehydes, sugars and naturally occurring alcohols such as polyphenol.
We then interpret the aromas produced by these chemical reactions as descriptive notes with smells and flavours that we recognise.
6. Summarising The Experience [10 Points]
In this section, we take a moment to evaluate the whole experience from a largely cosmetic perspective. That is not to say that this section is superficial but it takes into account factors such as presentation, cost and surface quality.
Rating The Label
Although many would argue that its the contents of the bottle that counts, we believe that the presentation is part of the whole experience. For instance, a Champagne’s label sets the scene much like a book cover or a cigar’s band.
An eye-catching and unique design will improve the resulting experience as a centrepiece to admire during a meal. However, if the design is bland or unattractive, it could cheapen the moment.
Therefore, we take a moment to evaluate the label and its design in terms of attractiveness and originality.
What Are Champagne Plaques?
Similarly, a hidden gem of Champagne is the metal plaque that holds the cork in place with the muselet. Whilst some houses consider this an afterthought, many others take care in creating unique designs with great attention to detail.
Interestingly, collecting plaques is a well-known hobby in France. Known as Placomusophiles, they’re part of a passionate community of enthusiasts akin to stamp collectors. In fact, it is estimated that there are at least 30,000 different Champagne plaques currently in circulation.
In that light, given the work and passion involved in designing these plaques, we believe that it’s important to appreciate them.
Why Is Cork Quality Important For Champagne?
During a process known as disgorgement, the crown cap used to seal a bottle is removed and the Champagne is bottled. This is only done when the producer deems to Champagne ready for retail.
Therefore, most Champagne is ready to drink straightaway even if some vintages can age in a corked bottle for another 10 years. A good quality cork is usually smooth, a consistent brown colour and without any blemishes. Furthermore, it should return to its original cylindrical shape soon after opening.
However, if stored in poor conditions for too long, the cork can become dry, brittle and withered. Furthermore, temperature spikes can break the seal, which can be seen due to dark streaks across the cork.
A low-quality cork can taint the Champagne’s taste so it’s important that it’s of good quality and stored in the best conditions. We inspect this right after opening and check again an hour or so later.
Champagne For Every Occasion
We believe that it’s important to rate a Champagne according to how well it suits the occasion. A prestigious Champagne tends to fare well in any event no matter the environment.
Generally, a versatile Champagne will be highly-rated. Even well-presented budget Champagnes with exceptional flavour profiles can be enjoyed in a formal setting.
However, if the Champagne is too casual, it may lack the grandiosity desired for certain events. Therefore, the “occasion” serves as an indicator for when and where this Champagne is best enjoyed.
A Champagne’s Value For Money
Finally, being one of the most expensive wines, even the cheapest Champagne is an investment. Although we review all wine by the same standard, we do feel that it’s important to take into account pricing.
After all, even some premium cuvées are overrated whereas cheaper alternatives can offer a superior experience. In order to avoid disappointment, we dedicate a space to this very consideration. This allows readers to make a confident purchase from an informed opinion.
Furthermore, we list the RRP compared to the price paid for the review. If it can be bought cheaper elsewhere, we’ll be sure to mention it. Likewise, the printable version allows you to note where you bought yours and how much you paid.
7. Discovering The Best Pairings
Although Champagne is a wine that can be enjoyed on its own, it offers a truly harmonious experience when paired well. However, every wine accords differently with meals and Champagne is no different.
As we mentioned earlier, there are many factors such as acidity and yeast that can affect a Champagne’s overall palate. For instance, a sweet Champagne goes well with dessert but would clash with red meat. Meanwhile, dry, full-bodied Champagnes have character, which complements strong cheese.
Finally, being partial to a good cigars, we even included a section for tobacco.
Finding the right pairing is an adventure in itself and a passion for many people. Therefore, there’s also a final section for the recommended serving temperature in order to enjoy the Champagne at its best
With every Champagne being different, we use this space to check what dishes would go well the cuvée we’re reviewing. Given that some exceptional cuvées pair with very few dishes whilst bland Champagne can be versatile, it would be unfair to score this section.
Instead, use this space for your own research. In our reviews, it can be a handy resource to plan ahead for your own events and meals for the perfect pairing.
8. Concluding Your Final Thoughts
After having fully assessed the Champagne and its quality, use this space for writing your final thoughts of the overall experience. As the introduction is ideal for talking about the aromas and notes, we tend to summarise it here in context.
Therefore, taking into consideration general impressions such as the occasion, value for money and presentation, is this a wine that you would recommend?
9. Download BUCS To Use At Home!
Now that you have learned how the Bespoke Unit Champagne Sheet works, you can use it at home! Whether comparing notes with friends or assessing your own collection, BUCS is a versatile reference.
The image below is a blank version that has been designed for printing on an A4 sheet and filling out by hand. You’ll note that it contains all the same information as the one we use in our reviews.
However, to ensure that you have a proper document with a high resolution, be sure to download the PDF via the link below:
If you enjoy using BUCS, be sure to reach out to us with your completed version. Maybe we’ll feature them in our future reviews!
Now that you have learned how the Champagne Sheet works, consider checking out our recommendations of the best Champagne to test it out on! Alternatively, you can expand your knowledge with our various Champagne guides.