Monday, February 9

All Things Champagne

I really enjoy celebrating special moments in life with a prefectly chilled bottle of champagne. I have a few favorites that I tend to purchase, and they typically are the ones with less sugar. For some time, I wasn't aware of what makes up the different tastes and sugar levels in different champagnes (or sparkling wine if you will). So, when I received this champagne cheat sheet, I thought I would share it on my blog. What a better time than now right before Valentine's Day creeps up on us!

Champagne has become synonymous with romance and celebration. Unlike wine, choosing Champagne is a much simpler process because there are far fewer choices. Contrary to legend and popular belief, the French monk Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. It was first produced by an English scientist in the 1662, who added sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation. This was six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Although the Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne, it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar to withstand the fermentation pressure.

By definition, true "champagne" comes only from that region of France that bears the same name. Specifically, the Champagne region is 90 miles northeast of Paris, close to the border with Belgium. Champagnes typically come from one of three areas within that region: Reims, Marne, or Cote de Blancs. Outside of France champagnes are known as sparkling wines and produced quite successfully throughout the world. Unlike most wines that are named after vineyards, champagnes are named for the houses that produce them. These houses, in turn, produce various brands of champagne, which are known as marques. When you select a bottle of Champagne, it will be these marques from which you will choose. Examples of well known marques include: Krug, G H Mumm , Laurent-Perrier and Taittinger.

Most of the Champagnes produced today is "Non-vintage", meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10-15% (sometimes as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the year is particularly good, some producers will make a "Vintage" wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year.

One of the beauties of Champagne is its remarkable diversity - each style appealing to a different palate and budget. The primary types of Champagne include Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé:

Blanc de Noirs - A French term (literally "white of blacks") for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. Common examples are: Tesco Blanc de Noirs, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (sparkling wine) and Piper Sonoma Blanc de Noir (sparkling wine).

Blanc de Blancs - A French term that means "white of whites", and is used to designate champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Blancs counts for less than five percent of Champagne produced. Examples include: Piper-Heidsieck, Mumm Napa Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine), Dom Ste Michelle Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine) and Piper Sonoma Sparkling Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine).

Rosé Champagne - The rosé wines of Champagne are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee. Examples include: N.V. Billecart-Salmon, Laurent-Perrier's Cuvée Rosé Brut and Legras Brut Rose Champagne (all French Champagne).

Arguably the most important characteristic when choosing a Champagne or sparkling wine, the sweetness is a combination of the amount of sugar added after the second fermentation and aging.
Brut Natural or Brut Zéro - (less than 0.3% sugar)
Extra Brut (0.3 to 0.5% sugar)
Brut - dry (0.5 to 1.5% sugar)
Extra Sec or Extra Dry - dry (1.2 to 2% sugar)
Sec medium - sweet (1.7 to 3.5% sugar)
Demi-Sec - sweet (3.3 to 5% sugar - dessert champagne)
Doux - sweet - (over 5% sugar - dessert champagne) T

The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century champagne was generally much sweeter than it is today.

Prestife Cuvée - Also known as the Tête de Cuvée or "head of the class", a Prestige Cuvée is literally the best of the best, usually made with the top grapes from Champagne's 17 grand cru villages, places like Avize, Bouzy and Verzenay. However, along with the impressive taste, it also can have an equally impressive price. The two prestige cuvée Champagnes first created, Moët's Dom Pérignon and Roederer's Cristal, still dominate the market and are the icons of what Champagne has come to express.

And there you have your champange guide to take with you on your next beverage shopping trip.

Happy Planning!

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