Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nov 16, 2005 - Champange & bubbles

It’s getting towards year end and one can almost imagine the sounds of popping corks and fizzy effervescent wine just around the corner. Champagne is synonymous with celebration, elegance and abundance or at least that’s what the marketing wizards have many of us thinking. Spin city aside lets take a look at what Champagne is about.

Here is a short video ==> http://www.champagne.fr/videos/en/localisation-choix.html

Not all sparkling wines can be called Champagne. In fact, only sparkling wines conforming and grown in certain areas in the Champagne-Ardenne region are deserving of the AOC ( appleation d’origine Controlee) designation. Does that mean that all Champagne AOC are good? Not quite. In other parts of the world they resort to other names such as sparkling wine, Asti Spumanti, Sek and Cava - Champagne however is off-limits.

The essential grape varieties going into Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot meunier – usually as a blend. Some people would say – hang on that’s the same stuff that goes into other wines!! Well yes same grapes - different process. The key behind Champagne bubbles is Secondary fermentation brought on by adding sugars and a special yeast ( the initial fermentation should already have exhausted the initial sugar content). Until more scientific methods were invented in the early 1800’s, the control and measurement of the sugar level was a bit haphazard. Before then, producing Champagne was a bit risky as well as occasionally explosive. The by-products of fermentation is sediment and its removal requires special effort, time and expense. Traditional methods or “method Champenoise” require a gradual rotation of the bottle over time until the sediment settles directly above the cap with the bottle now orientated cap facing down. It is kept in this position until the wines are ready to ship. At this point a final process called “disgorgement” occurs. The wine in the neck portion of the bottle is frozen along with the sediment into an "ice plug". Expansion due to freezing causes the plug, frozen wine and sediment to fly out - voila clean Champagne. The wine is then topped up, adjusted for sugar level ( in certain cases) and corked.

Champagne comes in several varieties differing by the amount of residual sugar: Brut Nature (0-0.5% - very dry), Brut (0.5%-1.5%-dry), Extra Dry (1.2%-2%), Sec (1.7-3.5%), Demi-Sec(3.3-5%-very sweet), Doux ( >5%).

It is said that the Benedictine Monk Dom Perignon invented Champagne but that is debatable. Some historians believe he tried to get rid of the bubbles in his wine to no avail. Champagne houses of note: Moet-Chandon (Dom Perignon), Bollinger, Krug, Salon to name a few.

Fear not : Champagne review to follow soon.

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