Sparkling wine and champagne are often used to celebrate special occasions.
Champagnes and sparkling wines are treated somewhat differently than other wines:
- The grapes are grown and fermented the same as with any other wine.
- After fermentation, the wines are aged for about five months.
- The wine is bottled with extra yeast and sugar. The bottles are capped to allow for a second round of fermentation, which lasts for about a year.
- The wine is aged for one or more years after the second fermentation.
- The yeast is removed through riddling, whereby the bottle is placed upside-down and rotated one-eighth of a turn every day. The dead yeast cells settle into the neck of the bottle.
- The neck of the bottle is frozen in an ice/salt water bath and the cork is removed. The pressure forces the frozen plug of dead yeast cells out of the bottle. This process is called disgorging.
- A mixture of white-wine brandy and sugar (dosage) is added to top off the bottle.
- The bottle is corked and wired to secure the high pressure inside.
Understanding the venerable sparkling wine from France
The Champagne province made still wines until the 18th century, when Dom Perignon revolutionized the process to produce the present-day sparkling wine known as Champagne (a little production of red, white and rose non-sparkling wines is still made).
When it comes to rules, the wine makers of this area set their own. A Champagne bottle is the product of grapes brought from the villages surrounding the main two cities Reims and Epernay. It is a blend of different wines from different years; furthermore, pink Champagne could be the result of red and white wines mixed together. Yet the result of these irregularities in winemaking is the divine wine that no happy occasion is accomplished without.
The main two grapes used are the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, and Champagne can be made from each separately or both together. The Blanc de Blanc Champagne (white from white) is a result of only white grapes, usually the Chardonnay, and is considered the best. The Blanc de Noir, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grapes, comes next and is followed by the Millesimes, which are the Champagnes made exclusively of wine from an excellent year and carry that year on the bottle. Then come the rest, which are still of excellent quality, because no expense is spared in making Champagne.
Champagne can be Brut (very dry), Extra Sec or Extra Dry (dry), Sec (semi-sweet), or Demi Sec (sweet). The Champagne region is part of the A.O.C. system, yet sometimes it is not mentioned on the bottle.
While Champagne is sometimes sold in larger containers like magnums (equivalent to two bottles), jeroboams (four bottles), or even balthazars (sixteen bottles), and the biggest mabuchodonosor (twenty bottles), it is best in the single bottle or magnum. When sold in larger sizes, it is literally taken out of the bottles and magnums and poured into the lager vessels. This operation may affect the quality of the Champagne.
Champagne is ready to drink when it is released. It is unnecessary to age it.
Brut and Extra Dry Champagne are pleasant as aperitifs. Sec and Demi Sec make fine accompaniments to desserts and are usually drunk after dinner. The famous French repas au Champagne suggests that Champagne is equally good throughout the meal.
What is your favorite kind of champagne? Tell us in the comments below.