Ravi K Joshi

Champagne

What is so special about Champagne that the many of us instinctively but incorrectly call any Sparkling Wine a ‘Champagne’? The answer has its origin in the 18th century when the famous French Benédictine monk called Dom Pérignon stumbled upon an effervescent wine that he intended producing as a still red wine- and euphorically called out to his assistant - "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!"- words that have now been etched in history. In the present day, the same production method is known as Méthode Champenoise- a method that involves double fermentation of wine, once in the fermentation vats and the second time within the bottle wherein the carbon-di-oxide produced during the secondary fermentation gets assimilated into the wine, giving Champagne it's trademark sparkle. 

For a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, the wine must be produced in the geographically demarcated Champagne region of France, and adhere to the production norms formalised by the French Government. The grapes for the wines too, must come from the same region, which is established for its optimum climate & soil conditions for the three varietals viz. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay.

In case of  sparkling wines other than Champagne, production methods and grape varieties may vary and even if Méthode Champenoise has been adapted, it is called Méthode Traditionelle.

Though the term Champagne in itself denotes luxury, there are some variations that peg the wine at various levels:

Vintage Champagne: Labelled by the year and produced only when the crop is exceptionally good that year. These are also kept longer in cellars as compared to the Non Vintage variety before release. Hence these are more expensive than Non Vintage Champagnes.

Non Vintage Champagne: These wines do not have the  year mentioned on the label and are formed as a blend of  80-90 % of current year’s crop with 10-20 % of the previous year to ensure consistency of the particular  brand style. 

Prestige Cuvée: What initially started as a ‘Made to Order’ Champagne in 1873 by Czar Alexander II of Russia  is now also released commercially in the present day context as top offerings of various Champagne Houses. These are the most expensive of Champagnes.

Some of the well known Champagne houses are- Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Bollinger, Billecart- Salmon, Taittinger, Cattier, Piper Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck, GH Mumm & Krug.

How to open a bottle of Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
  • Remove the top part of the foil by locating the tab and peeling it off.
    Thereafter remove the wire mesh by unwisting its turns, keeping the direction of the cork towards an open space away from persons or objects.
  • Hold the cork in place by hand from the moment the wire is removed.
  • Tilt the bottle at angle of about 30 degrees while gripping the cork and use the other hand by the base of the bottle.
  • Turn the bottle & not the cork.
  • Hold the cork steady, preventing it flying off and gently ease it out of the bottle.

Practical Tip: In case of opening the bottle in celebratory mode by shaking the bottle before removing the cork, take extra care to point the bottle away from people or objects and keep the cork secured with your thumb firmly pressed against it to avoid accidental shooting-off. Also keep the glasses handy for immediate pouring so that the wine is not wasted away in excess.

 
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