Most people know what Champagne is and where it originates (France), but many are left in the dark when it comes to understanding its primary styles and how they are different,” says Vitalie Taittinger, the artistic director of Champagne Taittinger, a premier brand founded in the small French city of Reims in the early 18th century. Perhaps even more confusing to people is the type of glass in which to drink the effervescent libation. “I find myself using large tulip-shaped flutes. The curvy full shape, similar to that of a white wine glass, allows for the aromatics to lift out,” she explains.

But you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the famous sparkling wine, and you certainly don’t have to drink it only for special occasions. It helps, however, to know just what you’re looking for. Champagne aficionados live their own culture, including using a special language. Keep reading, and you, too, will learn to understand a little “Champagnese.”

Non-Vintage (NV)

Generally brut, or dry with slight sweetness, the NV cuvée represents a house’s signature style.


Wines with this designation are superior offerings from a single harvest. Because the wines are aged in a producer’s caves for a longer period of time than NV bottlings, they often display a greater “leesy” (yeasty flavor and aroma) character.

Blanc de Blancs

This category may only be produced from white grapes, which may be vintage-dated or NV, and represent some of Champagne’s most age-worthy examples of chardonnay grapes. The wines are often austere and steely in youth; with maturity, however, they can develop an intense, toasty bouquet.

Rosé Champagne

Typically produced by blending red- and white-based wines prior to the second fermentation, rosé Champagnes come in various pink hues. Vintage, NV and prestige cuvées (see below) may also be produced in pink versions.

Prestige Cuvée (Tête de Cuvée)

The finest and often most expensive bottling that a house offers, the prestige cuvée is usually vintage-dated and aged for a number of years prior to release.

Popping Bottles: Champagne Cocktails

Although you may be hesitant to mix your high-end bottle of Taittinger in a cocktail, there are other ways to enjoy your bubbly, says Brian Van Flandern, mixologist at New York City’s Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. He recommends a few well-known brands. “Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label is a nice mid-range dry brut—it is the Doritos of Champagne. Perhaps a little pedestrian but then again, who doesn’t like Doritos?” he says. “For high-end, I strongly suggest Billecart-Salmon brut rose. It is phenomenal, with rich complexity that goes very well in almost any champagne-based cocktail.”

The Imperial Plaza

1/2 ounce apricot eau-de-vie

1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

4 ounces brut Champagne

Dried apricot



Pour eau-de-vie, lemon juice and simple syrup into a champagne flute. Top with Champagne, and garnish with dried apricot.


Fifth Avenue Star


1/2 Bacardi 8 rum

1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/4 ounces simple syrup

4 ounces brut Champagne

Lemon twist



Pour rum, lemon juice and simple syrup into a flute. Top with Champagne;  garnish with lemon twist.