A Toast to Bubbly!

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The region in France where Champagne is produced is only 85,000 hectares and is situated 90m north-east of Paris close to the Belgium boarder.

Champagne Facts

The region in France where Champagne is produced is only 85,000 hectares and is situated 90m north-east of Paris close to the Belgium boarder.

Usually when making wine the grapes are harvested when they are fully ripe, but because Champagne is a cool region the grapes have to be harvested before the first frosts arrive. This means they are normally harvested before they are fully ripe.  Yeast is then added to the grapes so it can react with the sugar providing the alcohol content.  But because the grapes are unripe extra sugar is added so that the alcohol level is higher.  It is in this way that the winemaker has a hand in how sweet or dry the beverage is.

The best temperature to serve champagne is 7 degrees C and it should be a light amber colour.  This colour is achieved from the Pinot Noir (black grapes) that make up 37% of the grape varieties used.  They are called black grapes because the skin is the colour of red grapes but their flesh is a light amber colour.  Red grapes are one of the main ingredients in the finest clear champagnes.

The better champagnes release their bubbles in almost vertical lines with uniformity.

Dom Pierre Perignon is considered to be the first person to invent champagne, as we know it.  He was a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers where he presided over the wine cellars in 1688.  Prior to this date the bubbles in champagne were considered an imperfection since they were aiming to create a still wine.  He allowed the carbon dioxide to build up in the dual process of fermentation and excelled at combining various wines to create the blends.

It has only been since the Second World War that champagne has been enjoyed by the masses.  After the region was heavily bombed its popularity exploded, in the twenty years following World War 2 worldwide consumption quadrupled.

The Guardian reported on Saturday 23rd October 1999 that Romans were enjoying sparkling wine 2000 years ago.  According to Professor Tran Ky, one of the worlds leading experts on the biochemistry of wine, the Roman poet Lucan described the techniques of the Romans in the first century AD explaining how the grapes were fermented twice to produce bubbly.  Champagne was even drunk at the banquet, arranged by Julius Caesar to honour Cleopatra. 

Champagne is appropriately associated with romantic evenings because, according to Professor Tran Ky, the smell rouses the olphactory cells in the nose that are connected the part of the brain associated with memeory and emotion.  The nitrogen oxide in the drink acts as a vasco-dilator.  The drink also stimulates the production of 60 types of biochemical messages which sharpen our sensory perceptions while the endorphines suppresses our inhibitions.

In 1997 the UK imported 22 million bottles of the stuff but astonishingly 18% of the UK population are believed never to have drunk it and over a third have never bought a bottle themselves. 

Thresher Wine Shop and Victoria Wine, who sell 1 in 4 bottles of Champagne in the UK, more than any other retailer in Europe.


Quick Guide to Champagne

  • Brut Zero & Brut Sauvage, are sugar free and extremely dry. These are also the best option for diabetics.
  • Brut is dry.
  • Perhaps somewhat misleading, `Extra Dry' is actually slightly sweeter than Brut.
  • Demi sec unsurprisingly translates as half dry, which is an easy drinking alternative to Brut and a great choice for those who prefer medium wines.
  • Doux and Rich are very sweet Champagnes - ideal accompaniments to light desserts.
  • Vintage champagne will have been made from the best available grapes, harvested in a good ripening year and aged on its lees for at least 36 months, compared to the non-vintage minimum of 18 months. This guarantees a very special Champagne taste, which is richer, nuttier and more complex than non-vintage.
  • Cuvee - the final blend of wines, soured from several different vats, used to create the distinct house style.
  • Premier Cru - describes vineyards that have been given rating of 97-99%.
  • Grand Cru - describes vineyards that have been given a rating of 100%, ie. the very best.
  • Blanc de Blancs - Champagne ma

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