Before you drain that flute filled with bubbly stuff that we know as Champagne, have you given a thought to what it really is or how is it made? Champagne is for the elegant, one of the best ways to celebrate the big and small things in life. While getting tipsy on it is great, getting knowledgeable about Champagne is even better.
What Is Champagne?
The drink borrows its nomenclature from a region in North-eastern France which is called Champagne – the same as the drink. It is sparkling wine which comes from this region that is known as Champagne. If you are drinking bubbly wine from any other region, then it is not the same as Champagne. The name Champagne was used generically by many people for sparkling wine. However, the French seem to be very particular about their wines and they have maintained legal rights to call their wines Champagne.
So what is so special about this region in France? There are quite a few factors that make it special, the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes which are grown in this region are very well suited for creating exquisite and delicious wines. Champagnes are undoubtedly delightful, but there are many regions around the world that craft delicious sparkling wines.
The history of Champagne begins with the development of wine in the region. In 57BC, the Romans brought vines to the Champagne region which, at that time, was not very popular for wines. The economy of the region mainly depended on wool and wine was just an incentive for the people to buy wool and was offered for free. The main rival for wines produced in Champagne was Burgundy which had a deeper color and was richer when compared to Champagne. The rivalry between the two wine producing regions lasted almost 130 years and came close to civil war. Eventually, Champagne gave up its endevours to produce better wine than Burgundy, and instead focused on sparkling Champagne.
In England, sparkling wine made its first appearance in 1676. With very little knowledge about fermentation, white wine was shipped to England from Champagne as soon as the initial fermentation stopped. It was shipped mainly in the winter season when the climatic conditions reduced the chances of fermentation. But once the wine reached the taverns, it soon began to ferment again and produce the fizz. The tavern keepers began bottling this sparkling wine and added some sugar to create some more fizz. This gave birth to sparkling wine from Champagne.
Dom Perignon who is associated with the creation of Champagne was a monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers and Dom was the business manager of the abbey who was given the responsibility of restoring the fortunes of the abbey. He noticed that wine can play an important role in this and designed a project of replanting and growing grapes to produce wine of superior quality. Unfortunately, he saw the fizz as a fault and tried fruitlessly to correct it. Although he is associated with Champagne, he can hardly be considered the inventor of Champagne.
Champagne today, is a sign of happiness and success. It has been used in movies and is often considered to be the symbol of extravagance. With more than 12,000 brands of Champagne, the drink has created a strong niche for itself and no matter how many other sparkling wines make it to the market, Champagne is unique and can never be undermined.
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How Is It Made?
Champagne is a type of sparkling wine and sparkling wines can be made in many different ways. However, Champagne when created in the traditional way, is made by a method called Champenoise. It begins to take form just like any other wine where the grapes are harvested, they go through the process of pressing and the primary fermentation. A secondary fermentation is used for crafting Champagne where the wine is blended and bottled with some yeast and sugar. This gives the Champagne its glorious bubbles.
The yeast that is added to Champagne begins working on the sugar and it turns into lees. These bottles of Champagnes are stored horizontally and allowed to age on the lees for 15 months or more. Once this aging completes, the bottles are turned upside down so that the yeast can settle at the bottom. The makers can then easily remove the dead yeast that has settled and add some sugar to the Champagne which is known as dosage. A cork is slipped on and the bottles are ready.
Types of Champagne
- Prestige cuvee – This is one of the most exquisite Champagnes which is produced by almost all the top Champagne houses in France like Moet and Chandon’s Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer’s Cristal and Laurent Perrier’s Grand Siecle.
- Blanc De Noirs – This is a white wine which is produced from black grapes. The Champagne is produced very carefully where minimal contact of the skin of the grapes ensures the whiteness of the wine.
- Blanc de blancs – These Champagnes are created mainly from Chardonnay grapes or occasionally from Pinot blanc.
- Rose Champagne – It is created by the addition of a small amount of red wine at the time of the blending. This gives the Champagne its beautiful pink color. It is very popular in fine dining restaurants.
This delightful drink is usually served in a Champagne flute and is served cold. It is often chilled in an ice bucket which ensures that it is less fizzy when it is opened. The Champagne fizz is often sprayed during celebrations. Many sports winners end up spraying Champagne at each other to celebrate their success.