The ever-effervescent Champagne

Posted On December 30, 2006

Filed under Festive Wines
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Make it your resolution to try more champagnes throughout the year. Champagne is perfectly married to special occasions, including New Year’s, weddings, engagement parties, birthdays and dinner parties.

“It’s relatively expensive, which is why champagne is reserved for celebrations,” explains Jamie Wolff, owner of Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan. “However, prices for champagne are near the same as a good bottle of wine. Champagne is great with food, as the tart aspect goes well with rich dishes.”

Le Method Champenois > While the French monk Dom Perignon certainly contributed to advances in champagne’s production, he is mistakenly credited with inventing the beverage. No one is quite sure who first discovered the drink, some uphold that it was created by accident, though its first appearance was around 1535 in Languedoc, a former province of France.

The name Champagne was legally protected under the Treaty of Madrid in 1891 to signify only sparkling wine produced in its namesake region, a mild northern province in France. This right was even reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.

Other bubbly wines not from the Champagne region sometimes use the term “sparkling wine” on their label. Some producers even use the term methode champenois, meaning “champagne method.” But regardless of whether they use Chardonnay, Meunier or Pinot Noir grapes, these wines cannot be called champagne unless those grapes were grown in the Champagne region and processed in the traditional method.

Only this region can produce the wine because the grapes used for Champagne need to be grown in an area where climate conditions favor a short growing season. The grapes can therefore be picked earlier, when sugar levels are lower and acid levels higher, yielding the unique flavor profile.

The fermentation of the grapes follows the same path as any other wine. First, carbon dioxide resulting from the transformation of sugar into alcohol is allowed to escape. This is when the blend, or cuvee, is assembled, using wines from various years to create a consistent product.

“A blend of different years is necessary because it permits the producer to maintain a consistent style,” Wolff says. “If you buy a bottle tomorrow, it will taste the same as one you tasted two years ago.”

The blended wine is then put in bottles along with yeast and a small amount of sugar and finally, corked.

Champagne’s effervescent quality is born out of the secondary fermentation, during which the bottles are stored horizontally in a wine cellar. The carbon dioxide formed in this process becomes trapped inside the bottle, keeping it dissolved in the wine. The amount of added sugar will determine the amount of pressure inside the bottle.

The champagne is then aged for a span of a year and a half to three years, after which the bottles are rotated a small amount each day and gradually moved toward a vertical position in a process called riddling.

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2 Responses to “The ever-effervescent Champagne”

  1. Paul Wyatt

    Hi: There seem to be errors in this article. After the Champagne (or sparkling wine) is placed in the bottle, it is sealed with a crown cap and stored upside down at an angle so that any solid by products will be accumulated at the opening. To help this process, the bottles are rotated 1/4 turn on a regular basis (This is called riddling). When the Champagne is disgorged, the neck of the bottle is frozen so that a plug of ice containing the solids is pushed out when the crown cap is removed. At this time, the bottle is dosed with sugar, and sealed with the cork, wire and capsule. The secondary fermentation now takes place and creates the bubbles for your enjoyment. A number of studies in England and France have determined that for long term aging, the bottle should now be stored upright, because the alcohol will affect the elasticity of the cork and allow the gas to escape. Just in case you like machines, the disgorging process is often done by a machine at a speed of about 120 bottles a minute.

  2. grhomeboy

    Thank you Paul for pointing out our omitions. As you may have noticed, this is not the only article related to champagnes or sparkling wines, all filed under same category. It may be possible we omitted a few details, in order not to repeat what has already been stated in other similar articles. This was done with the aim of shortening the article text so our readers do not get tired by reading what we already said before 🙂

    However, you are welcomed to contribute any additional information you may wish to share with our readers so that they increase their knowledge. Feel free to contribute at your pace.

    Best wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2007!