What is champagne?

Moet Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger or Dom Perignon you know them all but what is so special about them? There must be something about it as champagne was the favourite drink of Napoleon Bonaparte, Coco Chanel and Winston Churchill among a large crowd of enthusiasts. Is it just a special sparkling wine or is there some magic?   

Where does champagne come from?

You can only produce champagne in the French department Champagne with grapes which are growing there. Recently the Suisse town Champagne lost a lawsuit forbidding it to establish an AOC “Commune de Champagne”. The Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne defends the name and the use of the term Champagne to protect its singularity.

When was Champagne first produced?

Centuries ago, the champagne region grew mostly dry red wines. Following a cold wave the local winemakers started to produce grey wine a turbid beverage from the unripe red grapes. Combined with a change in storage method from oak barrel to glass bottle the remaining sugar in the wine led to a second fermentation giving it effervescence. A couple of centuries later pressure resistant bottles are becoming available as well as a standard method, dosage, to initiate the second fermentation. That`s how Champagne was born!

What are Champagne grapes?

Vintners can only use seven grapes in the manufacture of Champagne with 3 grapes being responsible for 99 % of plantations. These are two red grapes pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Grapes of lower importance for champagne are arbane, petit meslier, pinot blanc and pinot gris.

How is champagne made?

Like the use of the name “Champagne” the manufacturing is reglemented, too. This limits the quantity of grape juice to 102 litres out of 360 kg of grapes. The first 82 litres which are obtained after 3 pressings are called “cuvee”. The “taille” completes the 102 litres with 2 further pressings. Excess volumes are not used for the production of champagne.

The next step is the fermentation of the different wines for the champagne. Assembling of the clear wines (vin clair) and addition of the draft liquour (liqueur de tirage) unites the ingredients for the champagne. The draft liquor contains a mixture of the original wine, sugar and yeast. Storing the champagne over wine lies for 15 to 36 months gives the champagne its characteristic taste. A long storage period over wine lies underlines its “brioche” note. Gradually the dead wine lies are moving towards the capsule by putting them upside down in the riddling board. Turning the bottles from time to time helps to complete the separation of the wine lies. The invention of the riddling board by the veuve Cliquot made the removal of the wine lies efficient.  

Freezing the provisional capsule allows to remove the yeast containing ice cube.  Replacing this volume with the dosage liquor helps to finalise the aroma. It contains a mixture of the original wine and yeast (zero dosage) or a mixture of wine, sugar solution and yeast. The brut dosage with a sugar content of the added liquid of 6 -12 g/l sugar is responsible for 90 % of champagne market volume.

Closing the bottle with the final cork and agraffe provide the desired drink after a further storage period for consumption by the champagne enthusiast.

How is rose champagne made?

The Champagne is the only region which allowes to mix red and white wines to make rose. The most important method to make rose champagne is to add a little red wine to the white wines during the assemblage. Macerating the most of red grapes with their skin for a short time is the saignee (bleeding) method. Producing champagne this way yields a sparkling wine which has a darker colour and is wine like with sometimes slight tannin notes.

How long does champagne last unopened?

Champagne groups into non-vintage bruts and vintage champagne. Non-vintage bruts assemble out of up to 50 different wines and vintages to assure a constant quality. Vintage champagne composes out of wines from a single year. You can keep non-vintage bruts between 1 to 3 years and vintage champagne up to 5 to 7 years. A good indication is to use the date of disgorging. Sometimes you can find this information on the rear label of the champagne bottle.    

How many carbs in champagne?

Against common thinking champagne contains the least quantity of calories of wines and sparkling wines with 80 kcal per 100 ml. Despite adding sugar during the fermentation, it converts into carbon dioxide and additional alcohol. In case you`re looking for even lower caloric content you could try zero dosage champagne which has an even lower carb level. If you`re on a diet and would like to have a drink the best choice is a glass of champagne –  enjoy !

Best rose champagne

Best brut champagne

Christina Day
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