ALL CHAMPAGNE ARE SPARKLING WINE BUT NOT ALL SPARKLING WINE ARE CHAMPAGNE
Its fine pearls and delicate aroma have made it the epitome of sophisticated French wine taste. But in order for a sparkling wine to be legally called Champagne, it has to be produced in Champagne in north-eastern France about 150 kilometers north-east of Paris – in the northernmost and therefore coolest growing regions of France. As early as 1927, an area of 34,000 hectares was defined in which only three grape varieties may be grown: Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. The majority of all champagnes are blended from base wines of different vintages (“no vintage”), vintage champagnes are rarer and more expensive. The degrees of sweetness range from brut nature (zero dosage) to doux, with brut being the most common variant with up to 12g / L residual sugar.
Champagne is made according to Méthode Champenoise. This is a two-step fermentation process. The first takes place in steel tanks or oak barrels. The second fermentation takes place in bottles and takes about three weeks. A mixture of wine, sugar and special yeasts, also called liqueur de tirage, is added before the second ripening process. Then the bottles are stacked horizontally in the cellar, are gradually tilted and turned so that the dead yeasts sink to the bottom and settle in the belly of the bottle. Today, the bottles are placed in a desk at a slight incline so that the yeast can slowly slide into the neck of the bottle. On the first day the bottles lie almost horizontally, slightly inclined towards the crown cap, then they are shaken for 21 days. For the first two weeks, leave it at the same angle, but turn it a tenth of a turn every day. In the last week they are then turned upside down every day so that the yeast collects in the neck of the bottle. This process is called shaking, in French: remuage.
This method is said to have been invented by a certain monk named Dom Perignon (1638-1715) and later refined by the widow (veuve) Cliquot. It was then that she had the idea of drilling holes in her kitchen table and sticking the bottles upside down for a few days before disgorging. Both names are among the most famous houses in Champagne today. In order to remove the yeast residues from the champagne, the neck of the bottle is now flash frozen. When the bottle is then uncorked, a plug of yeast and ice that has formed inside the bottle shoots out. Before the bottles are finally closed with a champagne cork, the loss of liquid caused by the disgorgement must be compensated for by filling them up. This filing is done with the Liqueur de Dosage or Liqueur d’Expedition.
Once fermentation on the yeast is complete, the champagne can be stored for many years. It has now got its special aroma through the enzymatic decomposition process of the yeast. A maturation period of at least 15 months is now required sur lattes (“on laths”) for vintage champagne and three years for vintage champagne.
Moët & Chandon is now the largest champagne producer in the world. The champagne house, which is co-owner of the luxury goods company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, and has been rooted in winemaking since 1743, produces 28 million bottles every year. Dom Pérignon is a brand that belongs to the company. It is a vintage champagne, which means that it is only made in the best years and all the grapes from which the wine is made are harvested in the same year. Interestingly, other world-famous brands like Pommery (1858) and Laurent Perrier (1812), like Maison Veuve Cliquot, (1772) were founded by widows whose husbands died at a young age.
Of all sparkling wines, champagne ages the longest, making it rich and complex, and giving it its characteristic notes. Champagne can taste and smell like many things, but common taste descriptions are yeast and brioche. Compared to Prosecco and Cava, the bubbles of champagne tend to be finer and more persistent. Due to the longer and more expensive production process, it is also by far the most expensive. While champagne is often drunk on its own as an apéritif, it is well known that it goes well with oysters, caviar and almost any type of seafood. But did you know that it also tastes fantastic with fried chicken? The acidity of champagne cuts through fat and cleanses the palate with every sip.
This article was first published in Issue 15