My love affair with Champagne began when I was too young to admit at a relative’s wedding. My grandmother thought it would be ok if I had a glass to toast and I used that excuse with practically every other relative there.
When I was older, Champagne was equated with nights out on South Beach when someone (definitely not me in those days) splurged on getting a table. It was luxury in a bottle to be sipped and enjoyed while adding to the fun of the evening. Carpe Noctum!
While traveling in France this summer, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Champagne, the only area that truly produces Champagne (anything from any other region is sparkling wine). My biggest question was how Champagne was made differently than wine so here’s the basic 411. (Below are all pictures from the trip)
Champagne is made from either Pinot Noir, Pinot Meuiner, or Chardonnay grapes.
In the beginning, the process is much like making wine. After pressing the grapes, yeast is added. The juice is then put into stainless steel or oak fermenters.
This is where fermentation occurs. Yeast converts the sugar from the grapes into alcohol. Unlike wine, Champagne then goes through a second fermentation process where CO2 is created. The bottles are filled and capped during the second fermentation process. The CO2 can’t escape and produces bubbles. At this point, the bottles are on their side.
Years ago, bottle turners used to turn the bottles slowly over an extended period of time until all the dead yeast (it would be very cloudy looking) settled in the neck of the bottles (machines do this now). This process is called riddling. The top of the bottles, which are now upside down if you’re following along, are placed in a sub-zero saline solution. The solution freezes the yeast plug. The bottles are now turned upright and the yeast plug is popped out. This process is called disgorging.
At this point, the champagne is ready to be aged. Unlike wine, which does some barrel aging in addition to bottle aging, Champagne is aged exclusively in the bottle. For Champagne to be considered a vintage, it has to age at least three years.
We now have Champagne but it’s undrinkable because of the high acidity. The key is to balance the sugar and acid. The grapes from this area are somewhat bitter to begin with- they have high acid levels and low sugar. A mixture of sugar and Champagne is now added to the bottle and, depending upon the amount, a Brut, Extra Dry, Doux, or a Demi Sec had been created. The champagne is corked and ready to go!
Champagne comes in many, many sizes but here are the most common.
187 (single serve)
750 (standard bottle)
1.5 liter (Magnum)
3.0 liter (Jeroboam)
There’s quite a few larger sizes and Jay Z’s Champagne, Armand de Brignac, just introduced a thirty-liter Midas. That’s forty bottles of standard Champagne! It sells in night clubs in London and NY for $150,000. Who’s turn is it to buy?! 😉
Champagne doesn’t age like wine, so drink up! It’s great to celebrate a special occasion with a bottle of the bubbly but any day that ends in a y is a good occasion too (it also goes great with popcorn for an extra special movie night).
Here are a few my personal favorites at various price points.
Mumm Cordon Rouge $35
Pommery Brut Apanage $40
Perrier Jouet Cuvée Belle Epoque (also known as PJ Flower) $125
Laurent Perrier Brut Rose $90
Nicholas Feuillatte Palmes D’or $150
Angel (owned by Mariah Carey) $300
Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blanc $450
Cheers until next time,