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A rose by any other name….

would smell just as sweet….but Champagne by any other name….well it is just not Champagne! Now I am not saying that other varieties of sparkling wine are any less tasty, but we must start calling a spade a spade, a Cremant a Cremant, a Cava a Cava. Now if you are still with me, good. If not…this entry is for you! In the US, we have gotten into the habit of calling just about anything that is wine base with bubbles in it, Champagne. But we really must break ourselves of this habit! Not only are we pissing the french off, but we are also discrediting a lot of other delicious bubbly out there. So here is The Buzz on Bubbly: Lesson 1

Here is some of what I gathered up on Champagne for you:

1. To be called Champagne, it must come from a northeasterly region in France called…..surprise…..Champagne!

2. It must be made in a certain method called methode champenoise. These are the basics: Champagne undergoes two rounds of fermentation, the second fermentation occuring in the bottle and with the winemaker adding several grams of yeast and some sugar to each bottle. At this time the champagne bottle is capped. The bottles are then placed in large crates in such a way that the bottle can “age on their lees“, or rest horizontally on the residual yeast in the bottle . This bottles must rest on the lees for at least 15 months but can be kept like that for up to 8 years. After this the bottles are riddled, or in french remuage, which is “a process in which the bottles are placed on special racks called pupitres. This places the bottles at a 45º with the cork pointed down. Every few days the bottles are given a slight shake and turn and dropped back into the pupitres (eventually the angle is increased). The drop back into the rack causes a slight tap, pushing sediments toward the neck of the bottle. In about 6 to 8 weeks the position of the bottle is pointed straight down with sediment in the neck of the bottle.” (wiki) After this the neck of the bottle is then frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the lees, a process called disgorging, dégorgement in French. Immediately after some sugar is added, this step is called Dosage, and the bottle is then quickly corked to maintain the bubbles.

3. The main grapes used most commonly used to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meuniere.

4. Little known fact: Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings.

5. Little known fact: It was claimed that the famed monk, Dom Perignon, invented champagne. However he did not. The English scientist and physician Christopher Merrett documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation and presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called methode champenoise 40 years before it was claimed Dom Perignon did.

6. To show off to your friends, this is what this is how you can identify the champagne producer shown on the label. (wiki)

  • NM: Négociant manipulant. These companies buy grapes and make the wine

  • CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Co-Ops that make wines from the growers who are members, with all the grapes pooled together

  • RM: Récoltant manipulant. A grower that also makes wine from its own grapes (a maximum of 5% of purchased grapes is permitted). Note that co-operative members who take their bottles to be disgorged at the co-op can now label themselves as RM instead of RC.

  • SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative

  • RC: Récoltant coopérateur. A co-operative member selling Champagne produced by the co-operative under its own name and label

  • MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d’acheteur. A brand name unrelated to the producer or grower; the name is owned by someone else, for example a supermarket

  • ND: Négociant distributeur. A wine merchant selling under his own name

7. The sweetness of a Champagne are as follows:
Extra Brut (Brut Sauvage) – Totally dry – 3 grams of sugar per liter
Brut – Dry – 6 grams of sugar per liter
Extra Dry – Medium dry – 12-20 grams of sugar per liter
Sec – Slightly sweet – 17-35 grams of sugar per liter
Demi – Sec: Fairly sweet – 33-50 grams of sugar per liter
Doux – Sweet – 50+ grams of sugar per liter

8. Types of Champagne:

  • Non Vintage (NV): blended product of grapes from multiple vintages

  • Vintage (199?): is made only from grapes harvested during a specific year where the grapes had exceptional growing seasons and it is aged longer than non-vintage Champagne.

  • Premium vintage or prestige cuvée: made using only the best grapes from top vineyards for that year and the Pinot Meunier variety is often left out.

9. Famous Champagne Houses (by style):

Light Bodied

Medium Bodied
Charles Heidsieck
Joseph Perrier
Moët & Chandon
Pol Roger

Full Bodied
Heidsieck Monopole
Louis Roederer
Veuve Clicquot (mmmm! my personal favorite!!)

10. Styles of Champagne:

Blanc de Noirs– french term meaning “white of blacks”. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the “black grapes” used, which aren’t really black…more a dark purple, but we know them as red wine grapes are used to make this style. So think of this as white Champagne made from red grapes. The Champagne remains white in color because they do not ferment with the skins of the grapes (this is why red wine has its color)

Blanc de Blancs – french term meaning “white of whites”. This style of Champagne is made from Chardonnay grapes….a white grape=)

Rose – This style of Champagne gets its pink color by either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes with the grape skins for a brief time or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to it.

~~~~~~~~Some Champagne Quotes For You~~~~~~~~~~

I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty. ~ Madame Lilly Bollinger

Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne! ~ Winston Churchill, WWI

In a perfect world, everyone would have a glass of Champagne every evening. ~ Willie Gluckstern

I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends. ~ Tom Waits

Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams! ~ Ellen Simon


Well my wine loving friends…This is where we stop for this lesson. Next time we will move on and learn about the “The Other Sparkling Wines”!

In Vino Veritas (and some bubbles!)
May your glass always be filled with the sparkling joy of Champagne!!
Cheers! Salud! Sante!
– Ceci to the Americans & Veronique to the French

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