Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France from established grape varieties by the secondary fermentation of wine in the bottle. The name of the drink comes from the name of the province of Champagne, where this region is located. Although the term "champagne" is often used by sparkling wine producers in many countries and localities (for example, in California, Canada and Russia), it is correct to use it only in relation to wine produced in the Champagne region.
Under the auspices of the "Interprofessional Committee of Champagnes", a comprehensive set of rules and regulations has been developed for all wines from this region. These rules are designed to ensure the production of a high quality product. The rules indicate the most suitable places for growing grapes and the most suitable grape varieties. Although this code allows for the use in the production of 7 different grape varieties, in the vast majority of cases, champagne is produced as a single-varietal or assemblage of the three most famous: chardonnay (fr. chardonnay), pinot noir (fr. pinot noir) and pinot meunier (fr. pinot meunier).
It also defines a fairly long list of requirements that determine the main aspects of growing grapes. Among these rules: pruning of the vine, the yield of the vineyard, the degree of pressing of the grapes, the minimum period of aging on the lees. Only if the wine meets all these requirements, the name "Champagne" can be affixed to the bottle.
Protection of the name "Champagne"
In accordance with the Treaty of Madrid (1891) in Europe and most other countries, the name "champagne" (French vin de Champagne) is protected by law as the name of sparkling wine produced in the region of the same name in France and meeting the standards established for such wine. This exclusive right to the name was confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 at the end of the First World War. Even the term "champagne method" is banned for non-Champagne wines in favor of the term "traditional method".
Sparkling wines are made all over the world, and many places use their own terms to define their own sparkling wine: in Spain it is Cava, in Italy it is Spumante, in South Africa it is Cap Classique. Italian sparkling wine made from Muscat grapes, produced in southeastern Piedmont, is called "Asti". In Germany, the most common sparkling wine is Sekt. Even other regions of France are prohibited from using the name "champagne". For example, winemakers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace make wine called Cremant.
The term "sparkling wine" is used to label sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region (France). While many countries have laws protecting wine-producing regions such as Champagne, some countries still allow wine producers to use the name "champagne" to refer to products that do not originate in Champagne. To enable this, the US Congress, for example, passed a law specifying that the term "champagne" is "partially specific". The name "champagne" was used in the Soviet Union and is now used in Russia and other countries of the former USSR, in the trademarks "Soviet Champagne", "Russian Champagne", "Ukrainian Champagne" registered in these countries, and so on.
As mentioned earlier, the grapes for the production of champagne must be white chardonnay or red pinot noir or pinot meunier (however, it is allowed, but very rarely practiced, to add a small amount of grapes of other varieties that were previously used in the manufacture of champagne).
Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes is called "white from white", exclusively from red grapes – "white from black". Champagne is usually a white wine, even if it is made from red grapes, because the juice is squeezed very gently from the grapes, allowing only minimal contact with the skins of the grapes, which gives the color to the red wine.
Rosé wines are also produced, either by extending the contact time of the juice with the skins, which will give the wine a pink color, or by adding a small amount of red wine at the blending stage.
The amount of sugar added after secondary fermentation and aging ("dosing") is varied, producing the following varieties:
- "doux" (meaning "sweet") – the highest level of sugar
- "demi-sec" ("semi-dry")
- "sec" ("dry")
- "extra sec" ("extra-dry")
- "brut" ("the driest" or "brut")
- Extra brut / brut nature / brut zero
The most common all over the world (but not in Russia) is the brut champagne variety, although at the beginning of the 200th century champagne was usually much sweeter, and in the 300th-XNUMXth centuries the sugar content in the bottle reached XNUMX g per bottle in France and up to XNUMX g per bottle. bottle price Russia
The grapes used in the production of Champagne are usually harvested ahead of time, when the sugar level is lower and the acid level is higher. The juice from the harvested grapes is squeezed out quickly enough to keep the wine white (this does not apply to the production of pink champagne). The traditional method of producing champagne is known as the "Methode Champenoise".
The initial fermentation begins in the same way as for any other wine – in barrels or stainless steel tanks, where the natural sugar in the grapes is converted into alcohol, while the by-product carbon dioxide escapes. In this way a "base wine" is obtained. This wine is too acidic and not very pleasant on its own. At this stage, blending is carried out using wines from different vineyards and different years (this does not apply to the production of individual types of champagne, specially made from grapes of the same year).
Blending (or blending) – mixing in a certain ratio of different types of alcoholic beverages to improve its quality, develop a new variety, ensure the typicality of the drink and produce batches that are homogeneous in terms of organoleptic characteristics.
Mixed wine is bottled, a mixture of the same blend is added there, with yeast and a small amount of sugar. Bottles in a horizontal position are placed in the wine cellar for secondary fermentation. During secondary fermentation, carbon dioxide remains in the bottle, dissolving into the wine. The amount of added sugar affects the pressure in the bottle. To achieve the standard level of 6 bar, 18 grams of sugar and Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast must be inside the bottle in the amount established by the European Commission: 0,3 g per bottle. Such a mixture of sugar, yeast and still champagne is called in French "liqueur de tirage" ("circulation liqueur" in the domestic classification).
After aging (minimum 12 months on the lees), bottles of wine are subjected to a “remuage” process, during which they are rotated daily at a small angle and gradually moved to the “neck down” position so that the sediment collects at the neck and can be would remove. The process of removing the sediment is called "disgorgement", and in the recent past it was a highly skilled manual operation to remove the cork and remove the sediment without losing a significant amount of wine. At the same time, a “dose” is carried out (a certain amount of a solution of sugar in wine, called “expedition liquor”, is added). Then the bottle is corked again and aged for a short time, about 2 weeks.
Prior to the invention of the disgorgement process (reputedly pioneered by Veuve Clicquot in 1800), champagne was hazy. Currently, most manufacturers perform disgorgement using automatic machines: a small amount of liquid at the neck of the bottle is frozen, and a piece of ice, along with the sediment frozen into it, is removed.
Champagne wines must be aged in the producer's cellar for at least 15 months, of which at least 12 months the wine must be aged on the lees. Authorized champagne regulations require vintage cuvées to age in the cellar for three or more years before disgorging, but many well-known producers significantly exceed this minimum requirement by leaving bottles in the cellar for 6 to 8 years before disgorging.
Even among experts, there is no unequivocal opinion on the effect of aging champagne after disgorgement. Some like the freshness and energy of a young, barely disgorged champagne; others prefer the baked apple and caramel flavors that come with a year or more of Champagne aging after disgorging.
The vast majority of champagne is made from a mixture of wines from different years. Usually the main volume is the wine of the current year, to which the wines of previous years are added. This blending helps smooth out some of the flavor fluctuations caused by the Champagne's marginal climate for grape growth. Most champagne producers strive for a consistent "corporate identity" from year to year, and ensuring this consistency is one of the most difficult tasks of the winemaker.
The grapes for the production of vintage champagne must be 100% from the harvest of one year. To maintain the quality of the base champagnes, only up to 85% of the grapes in each year are allowed to be used to produce vintage cuvees, and at least 15% (usually more) is left for the production of the base wine. Millesime champagne is usually made from the best grapes in certain, especially successful, years, so a bottle of prestige brand millesime cuvée can be rare and very expensive.
The vast majority of champagne is made from a mixture of wine material from different years (only a few producers indicate the exact varietal composition on the label), while for vintage champagne made from grapes of the same year, the vintage year and (in some cases) the word "millesime" are put on the label (French Millesime).
Quite a lot of champagnes are made by well-known brands such as Veuve Clicquot or Mumm from purchased grapes and not grown in their own vineyards.
There are currently more than 19000 small Champagne producers registered in Champagne, whose vineyards occupy about 32000 hectares in the region. The type of champagne manufacturer can be recognized by the abbreviation following the official number on the bottle:
- NM: Negociant manipulant. These are companies (including most major brands) that buy grapes and produce wine;
- CM: Cooperative de manipulation. Cooperatives that produce wine from grapes grown by members of the cooperative, with the entire crop pooled together;
- RM: Recoltant manipulant. Producers who independently grow grapes and produce wine from them. They are allowed to purchase no more than 5% of the grapes from outside;
- SR: Société de recoltants. Association of winegrowers who produce common champagne but do not form a cooperative;
- RC: Recoltant cooperateur. A member of a cooperative selling champagne produced by the cooperative under its own brand;
- MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d'acheteur. A brand not associated with producers or growers; the name of the wine owned by someone else, such as a supermarket (such as Private Label);
- ND: Negociant distributeur. A merchant selling wine under his own brand.
Champagne is mainly bottled in two types of bottles: standard bottles (750 ml) and magnum bottles (1,5 l). Magnum bottled champagne is considered to be of higher quality, so magnums are usually much more expensive than standard two because there is less oxygen left in the bottle and the surface area is such that proper sized bubbles are created.
Other bottle sizes, named after biblical figures, are usually filled with champagne fermented in standard or magnum bottles. List of bottle sizes:
- Quarter (quart, split or piccolo bottle) – 187,5 or 200 ml (used mainly by airlines and nightclubs)
- Half (Demie) – 375 ml (used in restaurants)
- Bottle (Bouteille) – 750 ml
- Magnum – 1,5L (equivalent to 2 bottles)
- Jeroboam – 3L (4 bottles)
- Rehoboam – 4,5 L (6 bottles)
- Methuselah (Methuselah) – 6 l (8 bottles)
- Salmanazar – 9 l – (12 bottles)
- Balthazar – 12 l (16 bottles)
- Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadnezzar) – 15 l (20 bottles)
- Melchior – 18 l (24 bottles)
- Solomon (Salomon) – 24 l (32 bottles)
- Primat – 27 l (36 bottles)
- Melchizedek (Melchizedek) – 30 l (40 bottles)
Sizes larger than Jeroboam are rarely used. Primat bottles and Melchizedek bottles are offered exclusively by Drappier. On special occasions and for special people, unique bottles are made. Probably the most famous example is the 20 ounce bottle of liquid (imperial pint or 568,261485 milliliters) made especially for Sir Winston Churchill by Pol Roger. Such champagne was served to Churchill by his butler at 11 am when he woke up.
Champagne is usually served in special flute-shaped champagne glasses (called "flute", the French name is "champagne flute"), which have a long stem and a tall narrow bowl. A wider flat glass (bowl) is better for appreciating sweeter varieties, but is now discouraged by connoisseurs because it does not retain the bubbles and aroma of the wine.
It is better to taste champagne from large red wine glasses, since the aroma spreads better in a large glass, but, unlike a bowl, it does not evaporate and remains inside the glass.
The glass should not be filled entirely: champagne flute glasses are two-thirds full, and large red wine glasses no more than a third.
Champagne is always served chilled, best at 7°C. Often the bottle is cooled in a special bucket of water and ice before and after opening.
Opening a bottle of champagne
To reduce the risk of spilling champagne, open a bottle of champagne as follows:
- pre-cool the bottle with a drink to about +6…+15 °C;
- remove foil;
- grasp the cork with your hand;
- loosen but do not remove the muselet (wire bridle that holds the cork of sparkling and sparkling wines);
- firmly take the cork in the wire in your hand and then turn the bottle (and not the cork), holding it at the base; this should help the cork come out of the bottle;
- hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle. When the cork pops out, the resulting bubbles will be able to exit the bottle without foaming or splashing.
The desired effect is to uncork the bottle with a little pop, rather than shoot it across the room and make a foamy wine fountain.
Many wine connoisseurs insist that the ideal way to open a bottle of champagne is to do it gently and calmly, so that the bottle makes a subtle sound like an exhalation or a whisper.
It is commonly believed that champagne bubbles form around small impurities on the glass. However, these naturally occurring contaminants are usually too small to be such bubble centers. Bubbles are formed on cellulose fibers, which are either present in the surrounding air dust, or left after rubbing the glass.
It is believed that in a glass of good champagne, bubbles form within 10-20 hours after the bottle is uncorked.
The average bottle of champagne "contains" about 250 million bubbles.
Other interesting facts
- Sailors usually use champagne in the ritual of launching a ship by breaking the bottle on the ship.
- A flying champagne cork can reach speeds of up to 100 km/h.
- The pressure in a standard bottle of champagne is 5–6 atmospheres, which is about twice as much as the pressure in a car tire. The pressure depends on the size of the bottle, the larger the bottle, the greater the pressure.
- The longest recorded flight length of a champagne cork was 8,55 meters and was registered by the Guinness Book of Records in 2014.
- In many types of motor racing, it is customary that at the end of the awards ceremony, the winner of the race and the second and third place holders are waiting for a shower of champagne. This tradition comes from the 1960s: for the first time racer Dan Gurney poured champagne around. In 1967, he won the 24-hour Le Mans marathon and at the end of the race, the organizers presented him with a bottle of champagne. Gurney was so excited by this victory that he immediately uncorked the bottle and began to spray its contents on everyone who stood next to him. Since then, the custom has taken root so much that even during races in the countries of the Islamic world (where alcohol is banned), special fizzy soft drinks are prepared from champagne for the “shower”.
- Bubbles in champagne were originally considered undesirable by vintners. It is interesting to note that Dom Pérignon (Dom Pérignon is a premium brand of champagne) was originally instructed by his Hautvillers abbey to remove bubbles from the champagne he supplied, as many bottles exploded in cellars due to high pressure.
- A raisin or a piece of chocolate dipped into a glass of sparkling wine will repeatedly sink and resurface.
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