Do you Speak…Champagne?

Posted Jun 22, 2007 by M Dee Dubroff

Where does champagne come from and why does it have bubbles? What does a French monk named Dom Perignon have to do with it all? Read on for some bubbles, froth and knowledge.
There is probably no more common a sound during the holiday season than the steady clink of champagne glasses raised in toasts to good health, friends, new beginnings, peace, prosperity and good will (even bad will sometimes). But are the bubbles in your champagne glass aggressive, effervescent or lively? How can you tell if you are drinking a fine example of it or merely a sparkling wine charlatan? Read on for some details, albeit from a non-connoisseur, wanna be gourmand and know-it-all.
Champagne is sparkling wine but sparkling wine isn’t necessarily champagne. Is this about as clear as mud? Well, it gets better. Champagne is a light sparkling wine, which is made only in the Champagne region of northeastern France. (All others are imposters and should be shot on sight!) Wine can only be labeled as “champagne” if it comes from this region, is made from three specific grapes, which grow there (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir) and if its bubbles can honestly claim that they have been fermented twice; once in the barrel and once in the bottle. (That happened once to a friend of mine.
A word here about bubbles and the legend of the father of champagne, a Benedictine monk, named Dom Perignon. In 1688, he was put in charge of the wine cellars of the Hautvillers Abbey, near Reims cathedral. He felt the wine produced by the abbey was inferior and feared it would lose favor with the king. He was also frustrated by the bulles (French for bubbles), which were considered signs of imperfection. He and his staff began altering the wine’s chemistry by blending different grapes and removing the skins. This experiment, after many production disasters, yielded the first white wine ever made and the immortal exclamation: “Come quickly, brothers! I am tasting stars!”
Generally speaking, you won’t taste or even see stars if you drink fine champagne, but the smaller the bubble in your glass, the more intense the taste and the more money you will spend on a bottle.
Champagne comes in many varieties, all of which go well with different foods. A sweet dessert is often served with Brut, the most popular, dry champagne. Sweet champagne is Sec and would be too sweet with cake or candy. It goes well with acidy fruit and mildly seasoned dishes. Demi-sec is even sweeter and can be served as a dessert all by its lonesome or as a flavoring in sorbet. The majority of champagne sold is NonVintage and it must be aged one year. Vintage champagne needs three years to age and must contain a minimum of 11% alcohol. Blanc de Blancs de very delicate and are made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. These champagnes should be served before heavier wines and only with mildly seasoned foods. Blanc de Noir is made from black Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes and is not as delicate as the Blanc de Blancs.
And so my friends, when shopping for champagne, think sweet or dry and while drinking sip slowly. In this manner, bubbles dissipate in your mouth before swallowing and not your bloodstream, which can cause a headache. On the other hand, if you paid a lot of money for the bottle, you might have a headache anyway. So have one on Big Brother, the credit card company and your Aunt Tillie twice removed on your father’s side. In short, have a good time, and don’t forget to make a toast to anyone or anything before you take your first sip. Otherwise, the ghost of Dom Perignon may come back and haunt you.
What do YOU think of Champagne? Which brand do YOU like?