The common perception is that Champagne is reserved only for the finest of celebrations, that it is too special an elixir to consume on a Monday evening for no reason whatsoever. Well I am an advocate for bubblies and think they are fantastic wines to drink with a variety of foods or just for the heck of it.
Champagnes come in a variety of styles [Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir amongst others] as well as a variety of sweetness levels from dry [Brut Nature] to sweeter [Sec or Demi Sec].
Already it makes a strong case for consumers, as the range in styles really appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers. You do not find too many sweet Syrah or Cabernet wines, so for the sweet tooth this is just not an appealing wine type. I may happen to think that Syrah and Cabernet represent the best of what wine can bring to the table, but someone just entering into the world of wine might not like the idea of feeling that they swallowed a desert.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, lets discuss Champagne and what it is all about. There are many sparkling wines made throughout the world, but the use of the word “Champagne” is reserved strictly for those wines made in the area of Champagne in France. The use of the word is actually protected by the Treaty of Madrid  and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles. The United States acknowledges the use of the term and only those producers who had permission before 2006, may continue to use the term although most do not. In other countries sparkling wine is known as Cava [Spain], Spumante [Italy] and Cap Classique [South Africa].
The traditional method in producing “Champagne” is known as Methode Champenoise, whereby a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle trapping the by-product Carbon Dioxide [bubbles]. After extensive aging, the bottle is manipulated so that the lees [spent yeast] settles in the neck of the bottle, a process known as rumage. After a quick freeze of the bottle neck, the cap is removed and the pressure forces the ice and lees out of the bottle, after which some syrup is added [dosage] and the cork inserted to trap the Carbon Dioxide. Sounds pretty technical right? Well yeah it is, I have a great admiration for producers of this type of wine, it is not as easy as it looks. I do talk after having made one bottle of sparkling wine in my life, in preparation for my wife’s graduation. Silly me, I did not think it would take her 7 years to get her PhD and the bottle was less than fizzy, it would have been better had I used a Chardonnay and a bicycle pump. It will be the most memorable bottle of bubbly ever though. By the way, very proud of your Dr.Kathryn Schornberg.
It is true that you can make a sparkling wine out of any grape, I have had some wonderful bubblies made from Viognier in Virginia, Syrah from Australia and even a Cabernet Franc from Ohio. But for the purists though, “Champagne” is made from either Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. The particular style of the wines refer to the way in which the grapes were used; Blanc de Blanc [white from white], Blanc de Noir [white from red] and Rose whereby pigmentation is derived from contact with the skins of the dark skinned grapes.
Ever wondered why Champagne bottles are so freaking heavy? Well, since Champagne wines are made by trapping carbon dioxide in the bottle, the bottle has to be of sufficient strength to be able to withstand those pressures. They are so heavy and thick, they could make a wonderful self defense weapon.
So we have well established that there is a lot of finesse that goes into creating this extraordinary wine, but the real treat is in drinking these beauties. There is definitely a Champagne for everyone, from the cheap and fruity to the expensive and complex, the bone dry to the sweetest of the lot.
Champagnes are definitely food friendly, and are a great accompaniment to cheeses in the appetizer course, to shell fish and pork as the entree. Aged Gouda, Parmesan or Cheddar pair wonderfully with Blanc de Blanc, while pork and Rose Champagne is a wonderful treat. I have even heard that Champagne and eggs Benedict are to die for, you now also have an excuse to drink Champagne in the morning.
They do pair with desserts but try to stay away from sticky or overtly sweet dishes, try angel food cake or berries as a wonderful compliment to a demi sec.
Champagnes are vibrant and fun, with flavors ranging from green apples with beautifully focused acidity, to creamier versions with hints of biscuit and butterscotch. They can be smoky and elegant or tart and citrus driven. These are fun wines to drink. My prediction for 2012, more people will start drinking Champagne, just for the heck of it, and you know what? THEY SHOULD.
Some of my personal favorites include the
– Mumm Brut “Cordon Rouge”
– Piper Heidsieck “Piper”
– Krug “Grande Cuvee”
– Schramsberg J Schram and Mirabelle Rose [also my wife’s absolute favorite]
– Pierre Jourdan Brut Sauvage
– J.C.Le Roux Pinot Noir
– Peregrine Ridge Sparkling Shiraz
AND OF COURSE VIRGINIA
– Thibaut Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay
– Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc
– Veritas Scintilla
And YES, at some point in time I have had every one of these bottles, and NO, I do not have a drinking problem!
Local versions are fantastic and there are many other great options out there and provide fantastic value for money
I constantly preach that we have to keep expanding our palates and try different wines, so what better reason than that to dive into the fascinating world of the wine with the bubbles, because today is Tuesday, and it is a special day.
For as Winston Churchill so graciously put it
“In success you deserve it, and in defeat you need it”.
Fun little fact [quoted]
Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne. The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne.