Are we happy today? Oh yeah, lets open a Champagne baby!!! Or are we sad? Well, let’s open a Champagne anyway. It’ll surely lift our spirits up. Make way for Champagne – the mother of all sparkling wines, the wine of celebrations is here. Just let the cork fly and get surrounded by the feeling of happiness, of celebration, of triumph. But just make sure that you don’t stand in the way of the cork or else you might end up with a fine scar on your oh-so-fine face. As the pressure inside a Champagne bottle is equivalent to that inside three car tyres. Bang!! – you’re hit.
Located towards the North-Eastern side of the French capital, Paris. The climate is cool, almost cold, and mainly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The sub-soil is chalky and porous that provides sufficient water for the vine to yield quality produce grapes. The position of the vines on the slopes is such that it receives the best sunlight and ensures the run-off of excess water.
Champagne comprises of five districts –
Montagne de Reims (mohn–tahn–yuh duh rem):- Pinot Noir flourishes.
Vallée de la Marne (val-ay duh lah marn):- All the three grape varieties are planted with Pinot Meunier dominating.
Côtes des Sézanne (coat day say-zun):- Primarily Chardonnay.
Aube (oh b):- Pinot Noir thrives here.
Champagne is planted with mainly three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. While the Pinot family black grapes provide the blends the essential backbone, length, roundness and fruit flavours, Chardonnay delivers the acidity, cripness and sharp flavours. It is up to the wine maker’s discretion to decide upon the grape varieties and their combination, the amount of reserve wine to blend and the duration for which the lees (dead yeast) can be kept in contact with the wine. This is what gives the wine a creamy, biscuit-like, crunchy note on the palate.
The production process of Champagne, aka Methode Champenoise, is very unique. After the first fermentation the wine produced is still, and not sparkling. Different lots of wines are blended after fermentation in a step called assemblage. The wine is then sealed with an addition of extra sugar, wine and yeast and allowed to ferment again, but this time in the bottle. After this second fermentation, the yeast dies and imparts complex flavours to the wine. The yeast and sediments are allowed to get collected at the neck of the bottle by a process called remuage. These particles are then removed from the bottle by degorgement and the wine lost by this is then replaced. The bottle is finally corked and secured and released in the market. That’s Champagne for you in a nutshell, or is it??
There are various styles in which Champagne is made:
Non-Vintage Champagnes are a result of base wines blended from different years. They are consistant and may differ very little if comming from different batches.
Vintage Champagnes are the ones made in the year when the Champagne house declares a great year. Great in terms of the quality of the grapes harvested thus also cost some extra bucks. they define the best characteristics of the region, the year of production, and the winemaker’s skills.
Blanc de Blancs are white wines made from white grapes. These are 100% chardonnay based thus are generally preffered as an aperitif due to their light and crisp character.
Blanc de Noirs are white wines made from black grapes thus are made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes only. They are much rounder and full(er) bodied. This makes them a mid-of-the-meal or a food-worthy wine.
Rose Champagnes attain their pink hue from the addition of a small quantity of red wine. Generally this not how our regular rose wines are made but this practice is allowed in Champagne production.
Prestige Cuvée Champagne, usually a vintage wine, is the best blend of the houses using the best crops and advanced winemaking practices. e.g. Dom Perignon of Moët & Chandon, Sir Winston Churchil of Pol Roger, and the likes. They dictates the super-premium price range market.
The history of Champagne dates back to 3rd and 5th centuries A.D. Many have contributed in making Champagne the way it is recognized today. One such person was the monk Dom Pérignon. During his time the onset of winters halted the fermentation process thus leaving ample amount of unfermented sugar and yeast behind in the bottle. This wine was yet bottled without any clarifications. As the springs set,the temperature began to soar high rendering the yeast to recommence the convertion of residual sugar into alcohol. As a bi-product of fermentation, carbon di-oxide was released that got trapped in the sealed bottles. This lead to the presence of bubbles in wine. Some bottles couldn’t bear the pressuere that resulted in damagingin bottles explosions. So the monk and his contemporaries sought stronger bottles that wouldn’t explode. He pioneered ways and means to improve Champagne and did so effectively.
Another significate milestone was set by Veuve (widow) Clicquot that improved the quality of Champagnes like never before. She introduced dégorgement or disgorgement without losing the gas in the bottle. Since then, this has remained a sacrosanct part of Champagne production.
As compared to other wines, champagne is more sensitive to temperature and light. Hence, it is typically bottled in a light-resistant, dark green glass. The ideal storage temperature for the wine is 5 °C to 15°C. The serving temperature for champagne is 5°C. Uncorking of the bottle requires special skill to avoid mishaps. Champagne and oysters is a classic marriage between what nature delivers and what man can produce. Should you fancy much royalty with all the vanity, Champagne and caviar pairing is what you’d mark your lavish evenings with. There is much to this wine than what we wine-lovers can deliver. Till we could do that we will keep on raising our toasts time and again to celebrate another masterpice from the French revelries.
Primary Fermentation – The first fermentation aka Debourage results in a still wine with a high level of harsh acidity. This becomes the base for the future blends. The fermentation can be carried out in stainless-steel tanks or oak casks.
Assemblage – Different lots of base wines are blended here. They may also be assembled from the various vineyards. This forms the foundation of a high quality resulting produce.
Second Fermentation – Measured dose of sugar, wine and yeast is added to the assembled wine. This then sealed and allowed to ferment for 4–8 weeks, or even longer depending on the desired wine style. This converts the still wine into bubbly.
Lees Ageing – Post-fermentation, the dead yeast aka lees, settles in the bottle. Over time this lees releases complex flavours to the Champagne.
Riddling or Le Remuage – The bottles are placed in V-shaped racks and the remueurs (or riddlers) give each bottle a regular gentle twist till the bottles are fully perpendicular. This directs the lees into the bottle-neck. The yeast and sediments get collected at the bottle’s neck.
Degorgement a la Glace– Lees removed by dipping the bottleneck into a freezing brine solution. This freezes the sediments and the bottle is uncapped under controlled pressure resulting in a clean sparkling wine.
Dosage – The wine lost during degorgement is now replaced with a mixture of sugar and old(er) wine, to bring in the desired sweetness and alcohol level. This will mark the final dryness level of the wine like Brut, Sec, Doux.
Sealing The Bottle – The bottle is sealed using cork secured with a wire cage .