Champagne and the holidays are the perfect pairing. But how much do you know about France’s prized sparking wine? Test yourself or expand your knowledge with these facts about Champagne:
France is the top country for sparkling wine production, producing 42 million cases each year. It is followed by Germany (35 million cases) and Spain (17 million cases). By comparison, the United States produces 8 million cases each year.
Sparkling wine may only be called Champagne if it is produced in the Champagne region in the northeast of France.
The three grapes used for Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
A “blanc de blancs” is a cuvée or blend made from only white grapes; a “blanc de noirs” is made only from red grapes.
Champagne is produced using the “traditional method,” during which the wine undergoes two fermentations. The first fermentation produces a dry still wine. Next, a measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to initiate a second fermentation in the sealed bottle, producing the pressurized gas.
The traditional method is used to produce other sparkling wines around the world including many California sparkling wines, Cava from Spain and Franciacorta from Italy.
Sparkling wine produced in other parts of France using the traditional method is called Crémant. Examples include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire.
Before the sparkling winemaking process was perfected in the late 1600s, secondary fermentation of wine was considered a fault (and it often broke wine bottles).
Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon is often inaccurately credited with inventing Champagne, though he did help perfect the process.
Today there are around 300 Champagne houses and thousands of independent growers.
There are six atmospheres of pressure in a bottle of Champagne.
The special bottles aren’t just for appearance – the thick glass bottles and special corks held in place by wire are needed because of the high pressure at which Champagne is bottled.
Most Champagne is “non-vintage,” a blend of wines from several vintages that has been aged on the lees in the bottle for at least a year.
Vintage Champagne is made from a single year’s harvest and produced only in the best years. It is aged for a minimum of three years.
Finer bubbles indicate an older wine. As the wine ages the carbon dioxide dissolves more thoroughly, resulting in a smaller bubble size.
Sparkling wines should be served at a temperature between 45 and 50 ºF.
To open a bottle of Champagne, remove the foil and the cage, keeping your thumb on top of the cork to prevent a sudden expulsion (and make sure the cork is not pointed at anyone or anything breakable). With the bottle at a 45 degree angle, hold the cork still in one hand while rotating the bottle with the other. After a few turns the cork should slide out gently with a soft hiss.
An extra special way to open a bottle of Champagne (and one that requires a bit of skill) is to saber the bottle. Using a sword, the cork is sent flying, along with the collar of the bottle.
Want to saber a bottle of Champagne in your own home? First, remove the foil and cage and locate the seam that runs up the length of the bottle. Using a heavy knife, quickly run the knife along the seam and strike the lip of the bottle. The force and pressure will separate the collar from the neck of the bottle, expelling the cork. Be careful when handling the knife as well as the broken glass on the neck of the uncorked bottle.
Cheers to a great 2011!