Synonymous with luxury and long associated with celebration, champagne has an interesting history full of myth and mystery. Here we pop the cork on all things effervescent with Lee Quessy of Cayman Distributors Group and Cayman's brand ambassador for LVMH.
Both an area and a wine, the region of Champagne lies about 100 miles northeast of Paris. Made under the strictest legal and quality controls, only wine from this region and produced via the Méthode Traditionnelle can truly be called champagne.
By law seven grape varietals may be used to craft champagne, however, it is typically produced from just three: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Law also states that all grapes used must be grown within AOC designated vineyards and handpicked.
The region’s unique terroir is what enables it to grow so well the specific grape varietals required to produce this exceptional elixir. Wetter and colder than other areas, it was once an inland sea that left behind large deposits of limestone and chalk. Able to retain vast quantities of moisture while also draining well, roots can easily journey through the soil in search of nutrients.
After the still wine is produced it is blended by way of assemblage. Considered an art form by many, often more than a hundred wines from various vintages are crafted together to produce the desired result. This is of particular importance when creating non-vintage champagnes, when consistency is key, as they represent a House’s signature style.
Next, the liqueur de triage, a mixture of yeast and sugar, is added and the bottle resealed to allow for a second fermentation. It is this step that produces the essential and treasured fizz for which champagne is known.
After a designated period of aging, bottles are riddled – rotated consistently and stored on a slight angle so that the neck collects the sediment produced from fermentation. Necks are then flash frozen and the yeasty plug removed in a process referred to as disgorgement. It is then that the dosage is added. Dosage determines the champagne’s sweetness.
Sweetness comes from a process called dosage, when a liquid mixture of reserve wine and sugar is added back into the wine before recorking. This happens immediately after disgorgement. The amount of residual sugar determines the type of champagne.
RESIDUAL SUGAR LEVELS
Brut Nature & Brut Zero – 0-.3%
Extra Brut – 0-.6%
Brut – Bone dry 0-1.5%
Extra-Sec – 1.2 – 2.0%
Sec – 1.7 – 3.5%
Demi-Sec –3.3 – 5.0%
Doux – more than 5%
Champagne comes in a variety of styles that are defined by grape varietal, sweetness and quality.
Blanc de blanc is made solely from Chardonnay. It ages well and with maturity becomes buttery and intense.
Blanc de noirs is crafted from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and tends to be quite full-bodied and powerful.
Rosé is made from blending white and red base wines and includes contact with red grape skins. It tends to be more structured and forceful due to contact with the skins.
Non-vintage indicates the wine was crafted from current vintages along with reserve wines. Representative of a House’s signature style, it is the blender’s job to ensure consistency from year to year. French law states these champagnes must age for a minimum of fifteen months. Most champagne is non-vintage.
Vintage champagnes are crafted only in good harvest years. While they may source from different vineyards, they can only use grapes from that year and the bottles must rest on the lees for more than three years.
Prestige Cuvée or Tête de Cuvée is the top end of the spectrum. Using only the best grapes from the best vineyards, these champagnes are produced in small quantities from superior vintages and age at least seven years on the lees.
FACT: Workers wore special metal masks to protect themselves from impromptu explosions in cellars.
MYTH: French monk Dom Perignon invented champagne. Not true. He did, however, make important contributions: figured out how to control the fermentation process by developing corks and improving bottle design.
FACT: The smaller the bubble, the better the quality of the champagne. There are 44 million bubbles in each bottle.MYTH: A silver spoon placed in the neck of a champagne bottle preserves the bubbles.
FACT: Winemaking properties in Champagne are called Houses. There are over three hundred in the region.
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