It is the very definition of luxury. Many begin to salivate at just the thought. Elegant, complex, delicate and alluring. What is it about the northernmost wine growing region of France that can create such a visceral reaction in people throughout the world? The truth is that making a wine that tastes “like drinking the stars,” as Dom Perignon put it, was very much a creation of Mother Nature rather than man.
The history of Champagne dates back to almost the 5th century with the cultivation of the region by the Romans. Colder temperatures caused the yeast cells to become dormant during fermentation only for them to awaken again as temperatures began to rise, thus causing carbonation to occur. The resulting wines (had the bottles not exploded due to the internal pressure) were confusing to many. Dom Perignon himself spent much of his career trying to rid Champagne wines of their bubbles. It wasn’t until later that the Methode Champenois (or Traditional Method) of winemaking became the staple of the region.
There are seven allowable grapes that can be grown in the Champagne region. The most common three are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Chalky soil and colder temperatures make for wines with high acidity and low sugar. Champagne is made by fermenting still wine, adding yeast and sugar (which starts the second fermentation), aging and manipulating the bottles (riddling) to remove the sediment, and adding wine and sugar (dosage) to top off the bottles. The resulting wines are truly a thing of beauty and a labor of love.
We often mark special occasions with a delicious Champagne toast, but Champagne can be enjoyed anytime. A glass of bubbles can be drunk on any given Tuesday, paired with just about anything, and is perfect for a picnic, at the beach or poured on a cellphone by a rap star. So grab a flute, fill it up, and enjoy some Champagne for the campaign.
Nathan Dale, ABC Wine & Spirits Specialist – Jupiter
Follow me on Twitter @abcfwsNathanD