#newwinethisweek Week 51 – Champagne, France
Not only is it Christmas week, but I’ve also quit my job and sold my house… there really is only one wine that truly fits the bill and that is the Sparkling superstar from Champagne! We have covered off plenty of sparklers on #newwinethisweek, but the one we nearly always fall back on is Champagne.
Champagne is a sparkling wine that can only be made in the Champagne region of central France. The way the wine is made is basically magic, and there are a few things to know and remember:
- Champagne can be made using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; what you usually taste is a combination of the three
- Chardonnay is a white grape, Pinot Noir and Meurnier are black grapes
- A champagne made from Chardonnay only is labelled Blanc de Blancs (white from white)
- Champagne made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier will be labelled Blanc de Noirs (white from black)
- Rose or Pink Champagne are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time (known as the saignée method) or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee
- NV on the label means “Non Vintage” – most of the Champagne you have tried will be Non Vintage – this is the house style of the big Champagne houses. As vintage conditions affect the quality of the grapes, they use a combination of wines from up to 10 different vintages to create consistency
- Vintage wine doesn’t mean old wine – it just means that all of the grapes used to make the wine came from the same year – these wines are only made in very good years and allow the Champenoise to really show off their real flair – these wines will often be extreme versions of the house style
One of the reasons why Champagne is so expensive is because of the complexity and labour involved in making the wine – this is called the Methode Traditionale:
- Firstly you have to grow and harvest the healthiest grapes possible – like many of France’s wine regions the best vineyards are designated Premier Cru and, best of all, Grand Cru – we’ll talk more about this when we get to Burgundy
- Once the grapes have been picked (the best will be by hand), the grapes are fermented, for the first time, as any other wine to create a still base-wine
- The wines are then bottled into the vessel that you will eventually buy and yeast is added for a second fermentation – this is left in the bottle for a minimum of 18 months (many top cuvees and especially declared vintages will be left for far longer) – the yeasty, biscuit, pastry notes you get from champagne is due to the contact with the dead yeast, know as lees
- In order to get rid of the dead yeasts, the bottles are placed in a riddling table and undergo a process know as remouage so all of the yeast ends up in the neck of the bottle – this used to be done by a guy in the cellar who would turn every bottle a quarter turn every day for 40 days – its now done by machine
- The neck of the bottle is then flash frozen and the pressure in the bottle forces the frozen piece to shoot out of the bottle when the cap is removed – this is known as the disgorgement
- A final dosage is then added to achieve the right level of sweetness and the cork we recognise is inserted
And there you have it… Champagne!
I hope you all have a brilliant Christmas and enjoy your bubbles as well as your Pinot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet, Syrah… you get the gist!
Just don’t forget to vote for you favourite drop of Champers and let us know what you thought.
There are plenty of Christmas deals out there right now; what a great excuse to try lots of them!
Moët et Chandon Brut 2004 Vintage (Sainsbury’s £37.00 was £45.00)
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £30.00 was £35.00)
Jacquart Brut Rosé Mosaique NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £28.00 was £38.00)
Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £25.00 was £35.00)
Mumm Cordon Rouge NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £25.00 was £35.00)
Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £25.00 was £30.00)
Lanson Black Label NV Champagne (Sainsbury’s £22.00 was £34.00)
Or how about Waitrose?
Laurent-Perrier Brut NV Chardonnay (Waitrose £24.99 was £37.99)
Duval-Leroy Premier Cru NV Champagne (Waitrose £19.99 was £29.99)
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV Champagne (Waitrose £29.99 was £39.99)
Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Champagne (Waitrose £19.99 was £24.99)
Pol Roger Pure NV Champagne (Waitrose £33.99 was £43.99)