Celebrations and Champagne
Celebrating a special occasion isn’t the same without a glass of bubbly in your hand, but not just any bubbly, sorry other sparkling makers and regions, but style, unique region and history prevail here. The wines from Champagne have automatically become the ones we use to mark the most important moments in life, when a child is born, at a wedding, a birthday, career promotion just to name a few. That is why Champagne is not just a wine, but a state of mind. No other wine has such a celebratory status than Champagne itself. That dizzyingly powerful feeling we get is joy from a sip.
A little brief history: Champagne ‘s story begins 65 million years ago where northern France and Britain were covered by sea. As the waters receded they left behind a great crescent of chalk, rich with minerals and fossils which would eventually emerge the vineyards of Champagne. The wine Champagne comes from the region Champagne, derived from campagnia, a Latin term for the countryside north of Rome, lies about 145 kilometres northeast of Paris. There are approximately 15,000 growers from 312 Champagne villages/crus that raise the grapes that 110 plus wine houses make into sparkling wine recognised all over the world. The region is one of the coolest wine producing areas in the world.
The steps involved to making the wines are numerous and demanding and the winemaking itself requires specific type of intellectual dexterity. There are many styles of Champagne, to name some, blanc de blancs, vintage, non vintage, prestige cuvée, roses, with different levels of dryness and are based from 3 grape varieties, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. In most cases fermentation takes place in staineless steel vats whilst there are number of houses which prefer oak casks. Around 20% of the vintage is held in reserve for future blending to give the wine extra depth and richness.
The non vintage styles are made up of dozens of still wines, up to 40 or more, made up from different years, better known as ‘assemblage’. The vintage wines are made up of a blend of wines from a particular year that was exceptional. The non-vintage blend is mixed with a small amount of yeast and a combination of sugar and wine called ‘a liqueur de tirage’, then bottled and capped. The yeasts eat the sugar thus, constituting secondary fermentation, forming a bit more alcohol and throwing off carbon dioxide gas. The bottles rest in the cellar for up to a year resting in spent yeasts (lees) called ‘sur lie’. The yeasts are then removed by a stage called ‘rémuage’, 25% of the time by hand, where the bottles are riddled slowly upside down for the yeasts solids to be collected in the bottle necks. Each bottle is then placed in a brine solution which freezes the entire neck of the length of its contents. The cap is removed, hence the frozen plug of yeast shout out, which is called ‘dégorgement’.
The wine now is clear and bone dry. The missing liquid space is immediately topped up with a ‘liqueur d’expédition’ which can be a combination of reserve wine and sugar determining how dry or sweet the Champagne will be. This final method is called the ‘dosage’. Most non-vintage wines will take minimum 15 months and in most cases double that before consumption and for vintage wines minimum 3 years or more and up to 8 years depending on the cuvee.
So next time you’re enjoying a bubbly savour the moment and think that there about 56 million bubbles in a bottle and remember the finer the bubbles the finer the wine, ‘stars in a glass’. Few wines captivate us to the extent Champagne does. Life’s too short to drink anything else!