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All About Champagne

What is Champagne?

Lets start with the fundamental question of what Champagne exactly is. Champagne is a sparkling wine. Simply place, a wine that has bubbles or is carbonated. Thus, Champagne is after all wine. Champagne is really a northern region in France. It is here that Champagne is made and bottled for the world to delight in. In fact, only if the wine is from the Champagne region, can it be called Champagne. If it is manufactured any where else in the world, it is known as sparkling wine.

Origin Of Champagne

The origin of Champagne like nearly anything else is disputed. The most common folklore is that a monk with the name of Dom Pérignon introduced bubbles into the wine by mistake. But, he then went on to clarify and improve the drink dramatically and it came to be liked by French aristocracy. This led to the royal image of Champagne. The other theory but is that sparkling wine was first commercially produced in the region of Languedoc in the 1530s.

The English also claim that they helped the drink. This is really an fascinating angle. There was a significant and strong trade of French wines to the British aisles. Most wine was fortified with a bit of brandy and sugar to help the wine along it arduous journey. But, Champagne, was much closer to the aisles, yet a certain amount of sugar was still added to them, as the British liked their wine sweet. Now the early bottling which left a small amount of yeast in the bottles with the added sugar, caused the carbon dioxide that is emitted during fermentation to be trapped inside the bottle. This led to fizzy wines. Now fizzy wines are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. At least that is what the marketing efforts in those times lead us to believe. And since then, Champagne has been used in all celebrations around the world.

Whatever be the case, "Champagne" was born around the 1700s.

Method Of Production

methodé champenoise is the traditional method used in the making of Champagne. A primary fermentation of the wine occurs first. Pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay are the grapes used in the manufacturing of the wine. Now while bottling this wine, a few grams of yeast and a few more grams of rock sugar are added. This induces the secondary fermentation which produces the bubbles in the wine. As the yeast starts to consume the sugar, alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. Since the carbon dioxide is not allowed to escape, it is absorbed into the wine. Thus, when we open the champagne bottled, we are welcomed with tiny streaming bubbles.

How To Serve Champagne

Champagne should be served in Champagne flutes. A flute a slim glass which tapers slightly inwards towards the top. This helps in containing the bubbles for a longer period of time and hence, allows you to delight in your Champange to the fullest. Champagne is usually stored at 55 F in a dark damp location at an angle, like most other wine is. You must chill the Champagne for a few hours to bring the temperature down to 45 F before serving. Popping open a Champagne, though fun, leads to wastage of the drink and if you are paying $100 upwards for a bottle, you wouldn’t want that to happen. Hence, Champagne must be sighed opened, but gently uncorking it at an angle of 45 degrees. This allows more of the champagne to remain in the bottle.

Innovate With Champagne

Champagne can also be loved when mixed with other things as well to get some very smooth and refined cocktails. Mimosa’s are a fantastic way of having champagne. It was invented in 1925 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Add equal measures of champagne and orange juice in a champagne flute and garnish it with an orange slice to delight in this lovely drink. Add 1/2 measure of Campari and make it a Grand Mimosa. Another fantastic way to have champagne is to add 1/2 measure of crème de cassis to champagne. Garnish it with a twist of lemon peel. You can now delight in the Kir Royale. Lastly, for the like of beer, you can have your champagne with stout too. Add chilled stout (preferably Guinness) to a chilled white wine glass and half fill it. Now add chilled champagne to top the glass. Incidently this drink was invented to mourn the death of Prince Albert, Husband of Queen Victoria). Hence the name, Black Velvet.

More About Champagne

There are different kinds of Champagne. These vary in their dryness and sweetness. The driest of all is the Brut. This is a standard Champagne. Next in line is Extra dry. If you prefer sweeter wines, then sec and semi sec are sweeter in that order. You also have the blanc de blancs which is made only from chardonnay grapes. and blanc de noirs, made from either or both pinot meunier and pinot noir.

While the French like the Champagne to be young and youthful, the English prefer their Champagne to be rounder and mellower, hence they prefer aged wines. A small aging of wines in a dark cupboard is recommended for most champagnes. Atleast 6 months for regular wines and a minimum of 8 years for Vintage wines.

A Vintage Champagne is one on which the year of the harvest is printed on the bottle. This is an unblended wine from a single harvest in that year. They are generally considered superior and hence, also carry a premium. Recent fantastic vintage has been in the years 1990, 1995 and to some extent 1996.

Champagne’s are rated on a 100 point scale by experts. They each publish their findings independently. There is variation, but of a very small order.

Some of the fantastic brands of Champagne are Dom Pérignon, Taittinger, Krug, Moët & Chandon, Bollinger and Laurent-Perrier. You can safely pick any one of them and delight in the rich flavours of France in all its glory.

This article is written by Gautamm Mehra, a certified bartender and enthusiast. You can write to him at gautam [dot] mail [at] gmail [dot] com.



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