About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006
My recent post about a champagne tasting, started me thinking about champagne in general and where it comes from. Some ninety miles to the north east of Paris, rolling hills rise out of a chalky plain, bisected by the River Marne. This northern most vineyard area of France, is the spiritual home of all sparkling wines, which only here have the right to be called champagne.

Champagne is derived from the Latin term campagna, used to describe the rolling open countryside just north of Rome, which since the early Middle Ages was applied to this now strictly delimited area. The first credible mention of vineyards was in the fifth century AD. Vines had been planted around the city of Reims by the local nobility and abbeys. By the ninth century certain names were becoming associated with wines, such as vins de Reims and vins de la riviere (river wines), with several villages being noted for the quality of their wines, namely Bouzy, Verzenay, Ay and Epernay. In these times several grape varieties were grown, though today only three are permitted, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay

What is fascinating about these wines is that none were sparkling at all. That didn’t come until late in the 17th century, when a certain Dom Perignon, the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, near Epernay, made several developments such as tying down the cork with string, stronger bottles, though not strong enough as he lost half his production to exploding bottles, and the blending of wines from the region to achieve the best possible flavour.

Prior to this, wines from Champagne were fermented in the barrel, come winter the fermentation would shut down with the cold and would referment in the spring, inducing bubbles in the wine, which at the time was considered something of a nuisance for its habit of breaking the poor quality bottles available. Wines in the barrel were shipped to Britain where they had better quality bottles and the resulting sparkling wine was quite a success, which eventually bubbled over into the French court, through Louis XV, whose mistresses seduced him into drinking it, giving champagne a certain cachet that survived those who preferred the still wines of the region and were indifferent to it. Production at this time was limited to a few thousand bottles per year.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Champagne business that we know today developed. An employee of Madame (Veuve) Cliquot devised the system of pupitres to assist in the remuage process, which we know as riddling, that removes the sediment after the prise de mousse (development of the sparkle). Every single bottle of champagne is rotated and increasingly elevated over time to allow the sediment to slip down to the neck of the bottle, from where it’s disgorged (degorgement).This involves freezing the neck of the bottle and the pressure of the bubbles forces out the frozen sediment, leaving room for the liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar, the dosage of which determines the sweetness and type of champagne.

Types of Champagne:

Brut non dose, brut nature, ultra brut, brut zero ~ not dosed, no addition of sugar
Brut ~ less than ½ ounce (15g) sugar added
Sec ~ ½ to 1 ounce (17 to 35g) sugar added
Demi-sec ~ 1 to 2 ounces (33 to 50g) sugar added
Doux ~ more than 2 ounces (50g) sugar added

Types of Champagne Bottles

Bottle – 750 ml
Magnum – 2 bottles
Jeroboam – 4 bottles
Rehoboam – 6 bottles
Methuselah – 8 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar – 20 bottles

It’s interesting to note that even today, some still wine is produced under the AOC Coteaux Champenois. They can be red (Bouzy), white or rose (Rose de Riceys). For every bottle of still white Coteaux Champenois that is produced, about twenty of still red Coteaux Champenois are produced against sixteen thousand bottles of sparkling champagne. These wines are generally not available outside of Champagne and it’s thought that the Champenois keep these wines to themselves, to remind them how clever they are for making champagne.
  posted at 1:23 pm

At 4:01 am, Blogger Sam said...

A French Girl once told me the English invented champagne. I didn't believe her at first but since then have read a bit that would seem to support this claim. They were at it before Dom Pérignon. It was to do with the strength of available glass at the time.

I have been champagne tasting twice in the Epernay region and wouldnt hesitiate to do it again. and again. and again....

At 10:32 am, Blogger Ange said...

And apart from all that it tastes divine. I was fortunate enough to have a weekend in the region while I was living in The Nehterlands, we hired a station wagon & proceeded to taste & buy our way from the little unknown houses to the more famous, loved every drop & sadly the last one is now gone - our prized bottle of Dom which we drank for our wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago!

At 9:33 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi Sam, it sounds so bizarre, but history supports your beliefs. British technology superior to the French, sacre bleau!

Hi Ange, sounds like a wonderful time, sad that your last bottle has gone. On a different note a friend of mine who works in the wine trade told me the story of his boss who went to Champagne to visit some of the houses. At one Champagne house he told the host that it was his birthday, the host disappeared for a moment and returned with a vintage bottle from his birth year. Lesson ~ it is always your birthday in Champagne!

At 5:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone gave me a bottle of Dom Perignon for my 21st birthday in 1978. I found out the price - $28.

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