How Champagne is made

In the mid-nineties, Champagne was thought of as the drink of choice for special occasions and celebrations all over the world, today it is an everyday drink as more consumers had access to great Champagnes by the glass and reasonably priced sparkling wines produced globally. Champagne is a legally protected term, and its production is strictly controlled, unfortunately, due to an agreement not being signed in the US many moons ago, the appellation name Champagne is used as a marketing term by some producers who do not respect this important aspect recognized by all respectable sommeliers. The grapes for the wine used for champagne production are grown on a defined area of 80,309 acres in the Champagne wine-growing region. Champagne is the most expensive sparkling wine, but it is also subject to the most stringent production regulations of any sparkling wine, which are overseen by independent organizations. Each house's secret and art is to "compose" the desired cuvée (blend) from various base wines (often from different vintages) and present it in a distinctive house style. Our founder grew up in a pretty wine savvy household, Taittinger La Francaise was the house wine and for special occasions, Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne, bottles were recycled into vases at times for their beautiful flowered glass. You may have encountered her love of Champagne when she helped the owners of The Bubble Lounge open in New York and San Francisco as she was responsible for the wine program there.

While some of the house prefer their Brut non-vintage wine to be a specific house style, we also enjoy tasting what a vintage can represent which differs year to year and can change greatly.

Which champagne suits which occasion? Champagne is classified according to dosage, there is Brut Nature which comes in many forms denoting a non-dosage wine,  Brut, Demi-Sec, grape variety or blend of (Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noir) and color (Blanc, Rosé). First, there are the champagne grape varieties that have been approved. The great trinity of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier comes to mind for most people.

So how does Champagne get its sparkle? First, the base wine is produced from the must by alcoholic fermentation. Some of the producers then allow the so-called malolactic fermentation, a biological acid degradation. Once this process is complete, the base wine can be put together and bottled, in which it then ferments a second time. The wine is placed in racks to allow the yeast to move towards the neck of the bottle during which a riddler (manually) moves the bottles a quarter turn according to a schedule so the yeast forms what looks like a plug in the neck of the bottle and helps it to age. Many riddlers are working in the smaller houses while some larger houses use gyro palette machines to carry out the task. Only in Champagne may this process be called Méthode Champenoise.

The champagne improves after fermentation on the yeast and can be stored for many decades. The dead yeast undergoes an enzymatic decomposition process (autolysis), which gives the champagne its aroma. Furthermore, autolysis provides a fine solution of carbonic acid in the wine, which later in the glass ensures the fine, long-lasting bubbles. 

Before the bottles are closed with a champagne cork, the loss of liquid must be compensated by refilling. The dosage is a secret of the champagne houses. It gives the champagne a distinctive touch and determines the taste from extremely dry to sweet. The dosage can consist of reserve of the champagne base wine and can be from a different vintage. As a rule, , Liqueur d’expedition and liqueur tirage are both additions that are vital in the production of Champagne which is when a sugar solution is also added with a base wine or in some houses it is still common to use an “Esprit de Cognac”, which compensates for the otherwise occurring alcohol loss and adds a special house flair to the wines.

 About 80% of all champagnes are blended into cuvées from base wines of different vintages and come onto the market as a “Non-Vintage”. This assemblage  is an important part of champagne production. Up to a hundred different wines can be combined for a champagne. The base wine of a typical vintage champagne consists of about 70% of the current vintage, the rest are older vintages, and/or reserve wines. With the help of the reserve wines, it is possible for the champagne houses to produce an equivalent and identical tasting champagne every year, not all want to taste the same every year, it depends on the style and feeling of the Champagne house.

It's more than just a price tag. When one begins to open a Champagne bottle, there is a distinct sensation. It begins with removing the coiffe to reveal the cork and  wire cage, twisting but not removing the wire cage n, holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle, turning the bottle while holding the cork steady, and listening for the pop. That is a regal feeling for me. Champagne is not just for the wealthy; it is also for those who want to learn more about what makes a good wine. Champagne isn't just for special occasions; it can be enjoyed any day of the week or simply for the sake of it. The wine market has grown and continues to grow daily, and Champagne has played a role in that growth, as consumers have gravitated toward drinking Champagne on any given day. Consumers are also aware that Champagne comes in a variety of flavours. They reason that instead of sticking to one type, they should "expand my palate."

And what better food pairing for Champagne, than caviar? After all, a noble dish should also deserve a noble drink, shouldn't it? Champagne goes very well with caviar and is also the favorite among many people's drinks when it comes to caviar. The slight acidity and the pearly nature of the Champagne round off the taste of the caviar beautifully. The champagne corresponds to an excellent balance to the salty "pop" of caviar! Caviar is going through the same tipping Point that Champagne went through decades ago, as more consumers are learning about it and enjoying it in a casual atmosphere and we have many selections at Haute Caviar to choose from that are all natural to go with the best cuvees from Champagne and sparkling wine. Afterall since it takes 6 to 18 years to mature before being harvested for caviar and 3 or more years to produce a vintage Champagne, what better way to appreciate them but together.

How many bottles have we opened and tasted on our sommelier team? 10,000 + hours worth, which makes us experts! 

 

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