Champagne is a celebratory drink used to toast newlyweds or commemorate milestones. It can be an aperitif, it can be served during a meal, or it can be served with dessert. Vintage Champagne, the product of a single harvest, is preferred as it is bottled only in years when conditions in the vineyard have been favorable; non-vintage Champagne is released at regular intervals. Champagne cocktails like Bellini (with fresh peach puree and juice), Black Velvet (with stout), Mimosa (with orange juice), and Poinsettia (with cranberry juice) are quite popular at chic bars as they are more genteel than Martinis.
Champagne originates from vineyards in the French region of Champagne. Hence, if you see a bottle with “Champagne” on the label, it is an assurance that this wine has been produced in the northern French region. Sparkling wine made anywhere else in the world, even if the traditional “”methode champenois”" is used, is just sparkling wine. Therefore, Champagne is always spelled with a capital C. The “champenois” (producers) are protective of the name “Champagne” and take legal action against anyone who uses it improperly.
There are three grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) used to make Champagne although manufacturers often legally include small quantities of other grape varieties. The first two are black grapes, while the latter is white. The label specifies the contents: “Blancs de Blancs” is Champagne produced from white grapes and is a very delicate wine. “Blanc de Noirs” is Champagne produced from black grapes; it is concentrated, with a strong fruit flavor and bouquet. If neither description appears on the label, chances are that the wine is a blend of the three grapes.
A large part of its appeal is due to the bubbles that spill forth when a bottle of Champagne is uncorked. These bubbles are caused by tiny drops of liquid disturbed by the escaping carbon dioxide or carbonic acid gas that is a natural spin-off of the double fermentation procedure exclusive to Champagne.
Champagne is without question the finest sparkling wine made in the world. Champagne is the name of the wine region located about 90 miles northeast of Paris.
Champagne can contain up to three different grapes: Chardonnay, and the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Vintage Champagnes are only produced in the very best years; they are always more expensive than non-vintage Champagnes, but they are not always better tasting. Most Champagnes are the supreme expression of the Champagne blender’s art, assembled from numerous vintages, multiple grape types and various selected vineyards within the Champagne district, then carefully hand made and fermented in the bottle. By making these blends, the Champagne winemakers are able to create a consistent ”house” style and, indeed, each Champagne producer has its own distinct style.
Finally, there are several important terms you will encounter on a Champagne label that tell you much about the contents. From dry to sweet, Champagnes are labeled Brut Absolut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. Blanc de Blanc Champagne bottlings are made entirely from Chardonnay grapes and tend to be lighter and more delicate in style. Blanc de Noirs Champagnes are made from red grapes and tend to be fuller bodied and richer tasting; Rose Champagnes are dark pink in color and frequently intensely flavored.
Champagne Wine Tip:
In Champagne, the name and reputation of the producer tells you more about the wine than any other single factor. Champagnes combine the complexities of fine grapes grown in some of the best vineyards in France with the intricate subtleties of yeast and sometimes even oak elements plus the experience of tongue-tickling delight from pinpoint bubbles and effervescence to create one of the most sensual taste experiences in the world!
Wine Ratings – Wine ratings, wine and winery related information for the enjoyment of fine wines.
- Cut the foil (or “capsule”) covering the cork, just below the bottom lip of the bottle’s neck, and peel it off. Wipe the lip of the bottle.
- Insert the point of the screw into the cork, slightly off-center.
- Twist the screw all the way into the cork (don’t go half-way or you’re likely to end up with half a cork).
- Anchor the cork screw’s lever (the little notch at the tip of the bottle opener) on the lip of the bottle, hold the neck of the bottle with one hand and lift the corkscrew with the other.
- Pull the cork, twisting gently.
Riddling racks are central to the process of manufacturing Champagne. After the sparkling wine has aged on the lees, it is ready for the concluding stages. Riddling, or remuage, is the process designed to collect the sediment in a bottle and deposit it near the mouth of the bottle.
The bottles are inclined at a 45-degree angle on a riddling rack, comprising two simple rectangular boards hinged at the top. Each side is bored with six bottleneck-size holes, along ten rows. Thus each riddling rack can hold 120 bottles although there are special models for large containers. The riddler places the neck of a bottle of Champagne into each of the holes. A painted line on the bottom of each bottle acts as a marker, with all markers pointing in the same direction.
Daily, over the next few weeks, the riddler twists every bottle a few degrees. Simultaneously, he raises the bottle bottom indiscernibly, lowering the neck only a centimeter or two each week. In the beginning, all the bottles seem to be almost horizontal. After a few weeks, however, the bottles are slanted to a 60-degree angle and are neck-down in their holes.
After the wine has been riddled, the bottles are placed in a freezing solution for several minutes. Once an ice plug has formed in the necks, they are placed vertically on the conveyor line, and continue to the disgorging machine, which removes the crown caps from the bottles. As a result, the pressure within the bottles shoots out (disgorges) the ice plug (with the frozen sediment trapped in it).
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Some drinks look and taste better in special glasses although you could serve almost any drink in a Highball, white wine or Martini glass. However, since Champagne is a distinguished celebratory drink, it should always be served in its unique and extremely elegant glasses: flutes. Champaigne is a copyrighted trademark of those who make sparkline wine in Champaigne, France. All other drinks of this type are called sparkling wine.
A Champagne flute is a tulip-shaped glass designed to show off the “bead” (bubbles) of the fine wine as they brush against the sides of the glass and delicately fan out into a “mousse”. The flute has a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl on top, which is better than the traditional saucer-shaped glass at trapping and preserving the bead. After all, the fizzy bubbles are central to the pleasure of drinking a glass of Champagne, as compared to other wines. What’s more, they help to explode the bouquet just beneath your nose as you’re sipping the bubbly.
The tulip-shaped form enhances the Champagne’s robe, favors the ascension of the bead and prevents the wine’s bouquet from disappearing too quickly. Wine connoisseurs, of course, are acquainted with the fact that a particular flute might allow older Champagne to open more, while another will keep the Champagne chilled longer.
It should be noted that Champagne flutes need special care. Overcooling, soap residue or strong odors agitate the beads. To make sure your Champagne bubbles cheerfully, ascertain that your flutes are washed in clear water and dried with a lint-free dishcloth.
Cava – Spain’s Answer to Champagne
Cava has a 140 year tradition of being produced in Spain and has a growing worldwide following; it’s much more than just the poor cousin of France’s Champagne and, in many respects, constitutes much better value than the product of their European neighbours to the north. Commonly misconceived as a cheap imitation of Champagne, Cava is a sparkling wine in its own right with its own grape varieties and its own unique history.
Previous to the 1970’s Cava was simply known as Spanish Champagne until the EU passed a ruling that only wine produced in that specific region of France could carry the name Champagne. This ruling put the Spanish producers in a position where they had to find a new name for their product and they came up with “Cava” (the literal translation of which is “Cave” or “Cellar”). The ruling turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Spain’s sparkling wine producers forcing them to disassociate themselves with champagne and forge a new identity for their product, allowing Cava to emerge from the shadow of its French cousin. A downside to the EU legislation was that Spain also had to enforce stricter controls over what could carry the Cava name although, because of this, standards and quality have improved steadily, cementing Cava’s reputation as a viable alternative to Champagne.
The vast majority of Cava produced, comes from Catalonia and, in particular, the Penedés region within it. The capital of Cava production is the village of Sant Sadurni D’Anoia which is said to produce 85% of the total output of the wine. Despite production being dominated by this small region there are still other areas of Spain where Cava is produced and these include La Rioja, Aragón, Navarra, The Basque country, Valencia and Extremadura.
What is it that makes Penedés so good at creating the sparkling wine? There are a number of reasons for this, the most salient being the climate and the topography of the region. Temperatures in the region are mild with averages between 12-14°C and the regions grapes thrive at varying altitudes. Rainfall is mainly limited to storms in the autumn and spring but vital moisture is also provided by the summer dew. Winds in the region are not too strong and not too cold and therefore not damaging to the grapes. The region has also invested heavily in technology and using advanced automated techniques and the continuing success of Cava worldwide means the big “bodegas” (wine houses) such as Freixenet are able to continue to put money back into the production of Cava, ensuring its worldwide position.
To go back to Cava’s routes we must backtrack to the 1870’s when a group of Catalan wine producers known as the “Seven Creek Sages” got together to discuss how to produce a sparkling wine to rival that of France’s Champagne. They invested heavily in equipment, vineyards and additional staff and in 1872 Josep Raventos produced 3,000 bottles of Cava as we know it today. The emphasis was placed on using grapes native to Spain to give the Spanish version of champagne its own character. These are still used today and the three main grapes that formulate Cava are Macabeu, Xarel-lo (also known as Pansá Blanca) and Parellada. Since 1986 Cava producers have also been allowed to integrate the Chardonnay grape in their DO (domain d’origen) and it has been steadily planted in the last 20 years.
Today Cava is enjoyed the world over and, as it uses exactly the same production method as champagne, is comparable in flavour to its French rival. Taken as an aperitif, served with a meal or used for a toast; it’s a versatile wine that further strengthens Spain’s position as one of the world’s great wine producers.