EVENTS | 27 September 2021

What is so special about
Champagne?

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To understand why it is such an exceptional wine, it’s important to know a little of the history and art of champagne making.

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – legend has it that these were the words uttered by Dom Pérignon, monk and cellar master when he first tasted champagne in 1697.

So, what is so special about champagne?

Well, apart from the fact that it tastes like the stars, and we have associated it with celebrations for centuries, to understand why it is such an exceptional wine, it’s important to know a little of the history and art of champagne making.

All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne

It can only be called champagne if it is produced in the beautiful northern France region of Champagne according to over 20 rigid rules.  This “methode champenoise” is complex, time consuming, labour intensive and highly regulated, all of which adds to the mystique… and the costs. Chalk and limestone soils are common in Champagne because the area was an ancient sea; it’s not uncommon to find fossilised sea creatures. This chalkiness results in wines with a high acidity, along with the characteristic dry, mineral undertones. The dryness is also due to the colder climate found in the high northern location where the grapes do not fully ripen. The rights to be considered part of Champagne (Appellation d’Origine) have been the source of much contestation and even riots in the early 20th Century.

  • Pressure-Icon

    Did you know?

     The pressure in a champagne bottle is more than double that in car tyres!

What causes the delightful bubbles?

Up until the 17th century, bubbles in wine were considered to be a defect!

The beloved sparkle comes from a tricky secondary fermentation process after the “Liqueur de Tirage” has been added. Because the Champagne grapes are not very sweet, sugar needs to be added to feed the yeast which causes the bubbles.

The liqueur is a mixture of sugar & yeast cultures which is used to stimulate the second fermentation. One of the by-products of fermentation is the release of carbon dioxide, which, if the wine is bottled, is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. The yeast dies and becomes known as lees. The bottles are then stored horizontally so the wine can age on lees for 15 months or more.

After this aging, winemakers turn the bottles upside down so the lees can settle in the bottle's neck. Once the dead yeast has settled, producers open the bottles to remove the yeast and sediment by further complex processes of riddling and dégorgement.  It is a labour of love!

  • Bubbles-Icon

    Did you know?

    There are about 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of Champagne.

Which grapes may be used in champagne?

Most Champagne is a blend of grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier account for 99% of the region’s plantings.)  There are a total of 7 permitted varieties, the “lesser” grapes being Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane, which is the rarest of Champagne grapes.  Blending of varieties and harvests, or “assemblage”, is key to producing consistency. Only exceptional harvests may result in a vintage wine being produced.

The ultimate celebration beverage

What would a New Year party be without the sound of corks popping!  Champagne and celebrations have become synonymous. It was served at the coronation festivities of early French kings and many a ship was launched with a bottle dashed against the bow.  Even sport has adopted the lovely bubbly to shake and spray at victories. There have also been some more unusual uses… European nobility believed leather boots benefitted significantly form a champagne polish in the 1800s, while Marilyn Monroe took a bath in champagne.

Whatever your reason to celebrate, be it a wedding, a victory or simply watching a glorious sunset, a taste of the stars can only enhance the experience.

Cheers!

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