“In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Champagne was not only made popular by such great quotes, but also by celebrity endorsements or excesses. It’s no secret that Agent 007 James Bond always had a strong penchant for Bollinger Champagne (and vodka). And it has been reported that Marilyn Monroe once filled up her tub with 350 bottles of Champagne, and took a long, luxurious bath in it.
Champagne, the dry sparkling wine from the northeastern French region (east of Paris) bearing the same name, has long been considered the ultimate beverage of choice to raise a toast or to celebrate a special occasion. Its image as a celebratory drink and the high price of Champagne coupled with North Americans’ preference for sweeter style drinks have sent the image and sales spiraling down over the years. Fortunately, with the proliferation of inexpensive and both dry and off-dry sparkling wines from almost every wine-producing region of the world, bubbly is slowly regaining some of its lost popularity.
Gone are the days when sparkling wine was only drunk to mark a special occasion or to pair with luxurious delicacies such as caviar. Sparkling wine makes an excellent aperitif on its own or with simple hors d’oeuvres, seafood entrees or sushi, or it can be enjoyed with dessert if the wine is off-dry or sweet. It does not need to be a Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Bollinger Grande Année or other expensive bubblies. Some of the finest bubblies of the world are now produced inexpensively from New World wine making regions and other Old World regions such as Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe countries.
And as wineries try demystifying table wines by simplifying labels – first and foremost by identifying grape varieties as opposed to strictly provenance – sparkling wine marketers are also working hard to make bubbly more consumer and food friendly, that can be enjoyed any day.
Not all bubbly is champagne
Champagne’s popularity has made the name synonymous with sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wine produced from specific Champagne regions, for example, Reims and Épernay, produced by the traditional method using only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier can be labeled as Champagne. (There are other production criteria, however, these are the major ones.) Other sparkling wines from France, but outside of Champagne, produced using the traditional method are referred to as Crémant, while in Spain they are known as Cava.
The traditional method, most often referred to as méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle, requires that bubbles be produced naturally within each bottle by a second fermentation, known as prise de mousse, which is initiated through the addition of a liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugar and yeast, to a still wine. The still wine is referred to as the base wine, or cuvée, and it consists of a blend of many different wines carefully blended by the cellarmaster, or chef de cave. The cuvée can often be a blend of hundreds of different wines. If all component wines are from a single vintage, the final sparkling wine is vintage dated. Wineries that choose to make a consistent style year after year will blend wines from two or more vintages to produce a non-vintage, or multi-vintage, sparkling wine.
During bottle fermentation, yeast consumes sugar to convert it into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, just as in any alcoholic fermentation; however, the gas remains trapped inside the bottle, dissolved in the wine. The pressure inside the bottle can reach up to 6 bars, approximately 90 pounds per square inch, or psi – the equivalent of three times the pressure in car tires. 강남풀싸롱
The wine is allowed to ferment for several weeks and to mature very slowly at cool temperatures, between 50° and 54° F (10° and 12° C), with bottles in the horizontal position, or sur latte. This extended contact with the spent yeast cells from fermentation, a process known as yeast autolysis, is what gives sparkling wine its yeasty, nutty aromas and complex flavors. It can last a few weeks to several years depending on the desired flavor profile – and cellarmaster’s patience. Following the long sojourn in bottle, the dead yeast cells are allowed to drop and collect in a special crown cap closure, known as the bidule, through a labor-intensive method known as riddling.
Riddling, or remuage, is the process of twisting, turning and tilting bottles from a horizontal to a quasi-vertical position on a riddling rack, or pupitre, to allow the spent yeast cells to collect in the bidule, a process that takes approximately three weeks. The cellarmaster may choose to further age the sparkling wine by transferring bottles in their vertical position, or sur pointe, to a holding container.
When the wine has reached its optimum and desired flavor profile, the cellarmaster removes the spent yeast deposit from each bottle by a process known as disgorging, or dégorgement. The bottle is held vertically, pointing down, and with a disgorging key, the crown cap and bidule are removed whilst the bottle is brought to a horizontal position. This allows the sediment to fly out of the neck of the bottle leaving the wine crystal clear, if done properly. Often the process is made more effective by first freezing the neck of the bottle in a brine solution to freeze the sediments.
The last critical step, the dosage, involves adding a small volume of cuvée to which a little sugar is added to balance the wine’s acidity and to achieve the desired style, from bone dry to sweet. The French refer to this cuvée solution as the liqueur d’expédition, and often contains a distilled spirit such as Cognac.
Champagne is a cool-climate grape growing area and, as such, grapes do not reach high sugar levels as in warmer climates and have higher acidity, hence the need to balance with sugar. The lower sugar level yields a base wine with typically 10.0% to 11.0% alc./vol. Bottle fermentation adds another 1.5% for a total of 11.5% to 12.5% alc./vol. for the finished wine.