How They Put The Bubbles In Champagne, The Champagne Method

In the 1662 the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret described how adding sugar to a finished wine created a second fermentation in a paper presented Royal Society.  Not surprisingly, when I visited Champagne, they didn’t mention English contributions to the local brew.  Here’s how they told it…

Once upon a time, the French Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon discovered the secret of putting bubbles into wine, inventing Champagne.   Although he didn’t, the French Benedictine monk made important contributions to Champagne’s production.  In Champagne, the art of mixing the produce of different vineyards to achieve the perfect blend is of the utmost importance.  Ol’ Dom was the first to do this.

In the 19th century, Champagne was sweeter; they added sugar helped disguise flaws and/or poor quality.  In 1846, Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his Champagne and it was a hit.  Modern Champagne had arrived.  Just how do they get the bubbles inside?  The “champagne method.”  Many other sparkling wines, including Prosecco, use other methods of putting the bubbles in.  There is just something special about champagne and it might have something to do with this process.

Like regular wine, champagne starts out with crushed, fermented grapes.  In Champagne, they use grapes from different vineyards to produce a neutral, acidic wine.  Strong flavor would interfere with the development and final flavor.  The acidity is needed for the second fermentation and extended aging.  Who knew chemistry could be so tasty?

After the initial fermentation, they add a wine and sugar mixture known as “liqueur de triage” to base wine (which is known as the cuvée) before a second fermentation.  They cap it up for the secondary fermentation; this extra fermentation naturally produces the bubbles.   Carbon dioxide (aka bubbles) is a byproduct.

Bottles are stored on riding racks, which turn them almost upside down so residue settles in the bottles neck.  Even though it’s not in the neck, you can see what the residue (known as lees) looks likes in the picture above.

Bottles are marked with lines so that they can be turned regularly.  They are turned incrementally to avoid disrupting the champagne in the bottle.  I saw Magnums wrapped in plastic to prevent their breaking and shattering surrounding bottles.  Apparently, an exploding bottle of champagne has a dangerous amount of force.  You wouldn’t want the entire stockpile below to be damaged, would you?

After 15 months, the bottle necks are quick-frozen, freezing the residue in the neck. When they remove the cap, the frozen sediment shoots out.  This process is known as disgorgement.

While I’ve mentioned adding mixtures at a couple of points, I haven’t fully detailed its importance.  Champagne is known for blending and it is part of what sets this region apart (Bordeaux is also known for blending).  There, master benders are revered.  It takes tons of knowledge and balls of steel to hold back stock, mix multiple vintages and blend it in with newer vintages.   Cheers!

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I Got A Kick From Champagne

“Burgundy makes you think off silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them. Think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.”

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French gastronome, (1755-1826)

After visits to BurgundyAlsaceCôtes du Rhône, and Bordeaux, how could we not visit this wine French wine region?  Champagne is located in in north-eastern France. Although it is doable as a (long) day trip from Paris (the region starts 120 kilometers/75 miles from the city) , I did it as part of a visit to the World War I battlefield of Verdun.   There were people on some of my tours that were out from Paris for the day.  Trust me when I tell you that with a driver taking them from one producer of Champagne to another, they were having a very, um, fun educational experience.

Champagne has 4 main cities: Reims, Troyes, Chalons en Champagne and Epernay.  Most of the guidebooks recommend either Reims or the smaller Epernay.  I wanted to visit the famous (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) cathedral at Reims, so I chose to go there.  If I’d had more time, I would have done the Champagne Tourist Route.  It covers more than 500 km between Reims, Epernay and the Côte des Bar, and has around 80 welcome centers.  Growers offer tours in personalized settings, but you need to be better organized than I was and arrange them in advance.  Squeezing it in at the last minute meant that I could only tour producers like Tattinger and Pomeroy.

Let me explain.  Like Burgundy, Champagne’s vineyards are classified as Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Deuxième Cru.  However, in Champagne this does not give an indication of the vineyard’s quality or potential.  It functions more as a means to establish the price a grower gets for his harvest.   The producer or skill of the wine-maker in Champagne means that it is possible to have an outstanding performer in a second classed village and a moderate grower in a higher classed Grand Cru (just like Bordeaux, but different from Burgundy).  Confused yet?


How Thirsty Are You? French Wine Bottles From The Petite To The Gargantuan

Before our travels, I had no idea that wine came in so many different sized bottles.  Most of our visitors didn’t either.  While you can find different sizes in other areas of the globe, these are the most common in France.

  • Demi (0.375 liters) – meaning “half” in French, this is also known as a “halfbottle”.

  • Standard (.750 liters) – I think most of us know what this one looks like.  Many of us may have even had the opportunity to drink from one at some point.  It holds about 6 glasses of wine, less if you have larger glasses.
  • Magnum (1.5 liters)– I’ll admit it, this one first came to my attention through rap songs.  Essentially, this is two bottles.

  • Double Magnum (4.5 liters) –After exceeding the size of a Magnum, the sizes often have the names of biblical kings and other biblical figures.  A double magnum is also known as  “Jeroboam.”  Being twice a magnum, this holds 4 bottles.
  • Rehoboam (4.5 liters) – This one holds 6 bottles.
  • Methuselah (6 liters) – this is known as “Imperial” in Burgundy, this bad boy holds 8 bottles.

  • Salmanazar (9 liters) – a slightly different shape of the same size is known as Mordechai.  Why buy a case (12 bottles for you teetotalers) when you could buy a Mordechai?

  • Balthazar (12 liters) – Okay, if you want to get technical this guy was a wise man and not a king.  It holds 16 bottles, now that’s a party.
  • Nebuchadnezzar (15 liters)  – Also a wise man, not to be confused with a “wise guy.”  It holds 20 bottles.  When we saw it for the first time, we joked about buying one for aging when a child was born and saving it for their wedding.   It seems that large.
  • Melchior (20 liters) – I didn’t even know this existed.

We saw some unusual shaped bottles here and there.

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes a wavy bottle after one of the ancient ones found in its cellars.
  • Before the standardization of sizes, we saw many tucked away in cellars or on display in non-standard sizes.  They used bottle bolds like the one below.

For extra credit, the dimple in the bottom of a wine bottle is known as a “punt,” easy to remember for fans of American football.

Bon weekend everyone!

More Than Just Champagne Wishes And Caviar Dreams Bordeaux’s Chateaux As Investments

More than just “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” wineries today can be investments, part of a portfolio.  This is often the case in Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wineries are known as Chateau.  They may only use the grapes from their vineyards to produce wine.  As such, their size limits their production.  The volume produced is further limited by the rules related to the appellation or AOC.  This ceiling on Bordeaux’s production cannot be significantly raised, yet wine has become an increasingly popular beverage around the world.   This keeps prices, particularly for recognized and higher end labels, and making them a good investment.

Until then, enjoy these shots of Chateaux In Bordeaux.