Champagne

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of wine to effect carbonation. It is named after the Champagne region of France. While the term "champagne" is used by some makers of sparkling wine in other parts of the world, numerous countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the Champagne appellation. In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Other countries,such as the United States have recognized the exclusive nature of this name, yet maintain a legal structure that allows longtime domestic producers of sparkling wine to continue to use the term "Champagne" under specific circumstances.

Origins

Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. Churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims and champagne wine was served as part of coronation festivities.

Kings appreciated the still, light, and crisp wine, and offered it as an homage to other monarchs in Europe. In the 17th century, still wines of Champagne were the wines for celebration in European countries. The English were the biggest consumers of Champagne wines.

The first commercial sparkling wine was produced in the Limoux area of Languedoc about 1535. They did not invent it; nobody knows who first made it, although both the Russians and the English can make a reasonably good claim. It is recorded that in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period they added sugar and molasses to imported wine and bottled it. The English claim is given some substance as they had developed sufficiently strong bottles to withstand the very high pressures created by fermentation.

Contrary to legend and popular belief, the French monk Dom Perignon did not invent champagne, although it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar to withstand the fermentation pressure. It is believed champagne was created accidentally, yet others believe that the first champagne was made with rhubarb but was changed due to the high cost.

Somewhere in the end of the 17th century, the sparkling method was imported to the Champagne region from Russia, associated with specific procedures for production (including smooth pressing and dosage), and stronger bottles (invented in England) that could hold the added pressure. Around 1700, sparkling Champagne, as we know it today, was born.

The leading manufacturers devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine, associating it and themselves with nobility and royalty. Through advertising and packaging they persuaded the world to turn to champagne for festivities and rites of passage and to enjoy it as a luxury and form of conspicuous consumption. Their efforts coincided with an emerging middle class that was looking for ways to spend its money on symbols of upward mobility.

In 1866, the famous entertainer and star of his day, George Leybourne began a career of making celebrity endorsements for Champagne. The Champagne maker Moët commissioned him to write and perform songs extolling the virtues of Champagne, especially as a reflection of taste, affluence, and the good life. He also agreed to drink nothing but Champagne in public. Leybourne was seen as highly sophisticated and his image and efforts did much to establish Champagne as an important element in enhancing social status. It was a marketing triumph the results of which endure to this day.

In the 1800s Champagne was noticeably sweeter than modern Champagne is today with the Russians preferring Champagne as sweet as 300 grams per litre. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne, the modern Champagne, was created for the British in 1876.

Champagne and the law

In the European Union and many other countries, the name Champagne is legally protected by the Treaty of Madrid (1891) designating only the sparkling wine produced in the eponymous region and adhering to the standards defined for it an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée; the right was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.

Even the term méthode champenoise or champagne method was forbidden consequent to a court decision in 1994. As of 2005, the description most often legally used for wines produced like champagne is méthode traditionnelle. Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, and many producers use special terms to define them: Spain uses Cava, Italy designates it spumante, and South Africa uses Cap Classique. An Italian sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape uses the DOCG Asti. In Germany, Sekt is a common sparkling wine. Other French wine regions cannot use the name Champagne, i.e. Burgundy and Alsace produce Crémant. Yet some Crémant producers label their wines to mislead drinkers to believe they are buying Champagne.

Other sparkling wines not from Champagne sometimes use the term "sparkling wine" on their label, while most countries have labeling laws preventing use of the word Champagne on any wine not from that region, some - including the United States - permit wine producers to use the name "Champagne" as a semi-generic name. One reason American wine producers are allowed to use European wine names is that the Treaty of Versailles, despite President Wilson signature, was not ratified by the U.S. Senate. The Treaty of Versailles included a clause limiting the German wine industry and allowing use of the word Champagne only for wines from the Champagne region, (the site of WWI battles). As the U.S. Senate did not ratify the Treaty, this agreement was never respected in the United States.

Current U.S regulations require that what is defined as a semi-generic name (Champagne) shall only appear on a wine's label if the appellation the actual place of origin appears, in order to not mislead drinkers. Because the quality of American sparkling wines is widely recognized, many American producers of quality sparkling wine now find the term "Champagne" useless in marketing them. Moreover, several key U.S. wine regions such as those in California (Napa, Sonoma Valley, Paso Robles), Oregon, and Washington (Walla Walla) now view semi-generic labeling as harmful to their reputations, (c.f. Napa Declaration on Place).

The Champagne winemaking community, under the auspices of the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine the region to protect its economic interests. They include codification of the most suitable growing places; the most suitable grape types, (most Champagne is a blend of up to three grape varieties - chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier - though five other varietals are allowed); and a lengthy set of requirements specifying most aspects of viticulture. This includes pruning, vineyard yield, the degree of pressing, and the time that wine must remain on its lees before bottling. It can also limit the release of Champagne to market to maintain prices. Only when a wine meets these requirements may it be labelled Champagne. The rules agreed upon by the CIVC are submitted for the INAO's final approval.

Production

Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne (and some sparkling wine) is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae although each brand has its own secret recipe) and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared. This means that the champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years.

During this time the champagne bottle is capped with a crown cap. The bottle is then riddled, so that the lees settles in the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution.

Champagne Producers

There are more than one hundred champagne houses and 15,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers) in Champagne. These companies manage some 32,000 hectares of vineyards in the region, and employ more than 10,000 people.

Annual sales, by all producers, total more than 300 million yearly bottles, roughly €4.3 billion. Roughly two-thirds of these sales are made by the large champagne houses with their grandes marques (major brands). Fifty-eight (58%) per cent of total production is sold in France, the remaining 42% exported worldwide - primarily to the U.K., the U.S., and Germany. Generally, champagne producers, collectively, hold stock of about 1 billion bottles being matured, some three years of sales volume.

The type of champagne producer can be identified from the abbreviations followed by the official number on the bottle:

  • NM: Négociant manipulant. These companies (including the majority of the larger brands) buy grapes and make the wine
  • CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Co-operatives that make wines from the growers who are members, with all the grapes pooled together
  • RM: Récoltant manipulant. A grower that also makes wine from their own grapes (a maximum of 5% of purchased grapes is permitted). Note that co-operative members who take their bottles to be disgorged at the coop can now label themselves as RM instead of RC, which is causing concern amongst the real grower-producers.
  • SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative
  • RC: Récoltant coopérateur. A co-operative member selling Champagne produced by the co-operative under its own name
  • MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d'acheteur. A brand name unrelated to the producer or grower; the name is owned by someone else, for example a supermarket
  • ND: Négociant distributeur. A wine merchant selling under his own name

Marketing Champagne

The popularity of Champagne is attributed to the success of Champagne producers in marketing the wine. Champagne houses promoted the wine's image as royal and aristocratic drink the wealthy drinkers of a particular brand. Laurent-Perrier's advertisements in late 1890 boasted their Champagne was the favorite of King Leopold II of Belgium, George I of Greece, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Margaret Cambridge, Marchioness of Cambridge, and John Lambton, 3rd Earl of Durham among other nobles, knights, and military officers. Despite this royal prestige, Champagne houses also portrayed Champagne as a luxury enjoyable by anyone, for any occasion. This strategy worked, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, the majority of Champagne drinkers were middle class.

In the 19th century, Champagne producers made a concentrated effort to market their wine to women. This was in stark contrast to the traditionally "male aura" that the wines of France had-particularly those Burgundy and Bordeaux. Laurent-Perrier again took the lead in this area with it advertisements touting their wine's favour with the Countess of Dudley, the wife of the 9th Earl of Stamford, the wife of the Baron Tollemache, and the opera singer Adelina Patti. Champagne labels were designed with images of romantic love and marriage as well as other special occasions that were deemed important to women such as the baptism of a child.

In some advertisements, the Champagne houses catered to political interest such as the labels that appeared on different brands on bottles commemorating the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution in 1889. On some labels there were flattering images of Marie-Antoinette that appealed to the conservative factions of French citizens that viewed the former queen as a martyr. On other labels there were stirring images of Revolutionary scenes that appealed to the liberal and left sentiments of French citizens. As World War I loomed, Champagne houses put images of soldiers and countries flags on their bottles customizing the image for each country that the wine was imported to. During the Dreyfus Affair, one Champagne house released a Champagne Antijuif with anti-Semitic advertisements to take advantage the wave of Antisemitism that hit France.

Varieties

Champagne is a single Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Grapes must be the white Chardonnay, or the red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier (a few very rare other grapes that were historically important are allowed, but very unusual). Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay are known as blanc de blancs, and those exclusively from the red grapes as blanc de noirs.

Champagne is typically light in color even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé wines are also produced, either by permitting the juice to spend more time with the skins to impart a pink color to the wine, or by adding a small amount of red wine during blending. The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation and ageing also varies, from brut zéro or brut natural, where none is added, through brut, extra-dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Champagne was generally much sweeter than what we see today.

Most Champagne is non-vintage, produced from a blend of years (the exact blend is only mentioned on the label by a few growers), while that produced from a single vintage is labelled with the year and Millésimé.

Many Champagnes are produced from bought-in grapes by well known brands such as Veuve Clicquot or Mumm.

The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne

All of the over 15,000 growers, cooperatives and over 300 houses that are central to producing Champagne are members of the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), established in 1941 under the auspices of the French government (now represented by the Ministry of Agriculture). This organization has a system in which both the houses and the growers are represented at all levels. This includes a co-presidency where a grower representative and a representative of the houses share the running of the organization. This system is designed to ensure that the CIVC's primary mission, to promote and protect Champagne and those who produce it, is done in a manner that represents the interests of all involved. This power structure has played an important role in the success of Champagne worldwide and the integrity of the appellation itself.

The CIVC is charged with organizing and controlling the production, distribution, and promotion of Champagne. Until 1990, it set the price for grapes and still intervenes to regulate the size of the harvest, to decide if any should be withheld from production into Champagne and, if so, the amount to be withheld from the market.

Bubbles

An initial burst of effervescence occurs when the champagne contacts the dry glass on pouring. These bubbles may form on imperfections in the glass that facilitate nucleation or on cellulose fibres left over from the wiping/drying process as shown by Gérard Liger-Belair, Richard Marchal, and Philippe Jeandel with a high-speed video camera. However, after the initial rush, these naturally occurring imperfections are typically too small to consistently act as nucleation points as the surface tension of the liquid smooths out these minute irregularities.

The nucleation sites that act as a source for the ongoing effervescence are not natural imperfections in the glass, but actually occur where the glass has been etched by the manufacturer or the customer. This etching is typically done with acid, a laser, or a glass etching tool from a craft shop to provide nucleation sites for continuous bubble formation (note that not all glasses are etched in this way)

It is widely accepted that the smaller the bubbles the better the Champagne.

Dom Perignon was originally charged by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 1700s, cellar workers would have to wear heavy iron mask that resembled a baseball catcher's mask to prevent injury from spontaneously bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle's disintegration could cause a chain reaction, with it being routine for cellars to lose 20-90% of their bottles to instability. The mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations "The Devil's Wine".

Champagne Bottles

Champagne is mostly fermented in two sizes of bottles, standard bottles (750 mL), and magnums (1.5 L). In general, magnums are thought to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area favors the creation of appropriately-sized bubbles. However, there is no hard evidence for this view. Other bottle sizes, named for Biblical figures, are generally filled with Champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums.

Sizes larger than Jeroboam (3.0 L) are rare. Primat sized bottles (27 L) - and as of 2002 Melchizedek sized bottles (30 L) - are exclusively offered by the House Drappier. The same names are used for bottles containing wine and port; however Jeroboam, Rehoboam and Methuselah refer to different bottle volumes. On occasion unique sizes have been made for special occasions and people, the most notable example perhaps being the 20 fluid ounce / 60 cL. bottle (Imperial pint) made specially for Sir Winston Churchill by Pol Roger. In order to see a side by side comparisen see this site Champagne sizes

Champagne Corks

Champagne corks are built from several sections and are referred to as aglomerated corks. The mushroom shape that occurs in the transition is due to the bottom section, which is in contact with the wine, being comprised of two stacked discs of pristine cork, cemented to the upper portion which is a conglomerate of ground cork and glue. Prior to insertion, a sparkling wine cork is almost 50% larger than the opening of the bottle. Originally they start as a cylinder and are compressed prior to insertion into the bottle. Over time their compressed shape becomes more permanent and the distinctive "mushroom" shape becomes more apparent.

The aging of the champagne post disgorgement can to some degree be told by the cork, as the longer it has been in the bottle the less it returns to its original cylinder shape.

Serving Champagne

Champagne is usually served in a champagne flute, whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl and opening. The wider, flat champagne cup, (pronounced coupe); which has a saucer-shaped bowl and is commonly associated with Champagne, is no longer preferred by connoisseurs because it does not preserve the bubbles and aroma of the wine as well.

Alternatively, when tasting Champagne, a big red wine glass (i.e. a glass for Bordeaux) can be used, as the aroma spreads better in the larger volume of the glass. Glasses should not be overfilled: flutes should be filled only to ? of the glass, and big red wine glasses not more than ? of the glass.

Champagne is always served cold, and is best drunk at a temperature of around 7 to 9 °C (43 to 48 °F). Often the bottle is chilled in a bucket of ice and water before and after opening. Champagne buckets are made specifically for this purpose, and often have a larger volume than standard wine-cooling buckets (to accommodate the larger bottle, and more water and ice).

Champagne Etiquette

Contrary to what is often shown in film and television, is it very impolite to allow the cork to make a loud "pop" sound. The cork should be slowly and carefully turned for removal. This same rule applies to regular wines; a waiter who opens a bottles loudly is seen as uncultured and rude - such action on his part would be tantamount to spitting in the soup.

Opening Champagne Bottles

The deliberate spraying of Champagne has become an integral part of some sports trophy presentations, such as the famous podium presentation at the conclusion of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. However, this opening will waste much of the champagne. To reduce the risk of spilling Champagne and/or turning the cork into a dangerous projectile, a Champagne bottle can be opened by holding the cork and rotating the bottle (rather than the cork). By using a 45 degree angle, the surface of the champagne has the maximum surface area, thus minimizing the excessive bubbling. The cork can ease out with a sigh or a whisper rather than a pop. The flavor will be largely the same, irrespective of the method used, but the volume left in the bottle will differ.

A saber can be used to open a Champagne bottle with great ceremony. This technique is called sabrage.

Health Benefits

In April 2007, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published the results of a recent joint study by the University of Reading and University of Cagliari that showed moderate consumptions of Champagne may help the brain cope with the trauma of stroke, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease. The research noted that the high amount of the antioxidant polyphenols in sparkling wine can help prevent deterioration of brain cells due to oxidative stress. During the study scientist exposed two groups of mice with blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay composition) and blanc de noir (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier based) and a control group with no exposure to Champagne. All groups were then subjected to high levels of neurotoxicity similar to what the human brain experiences during inflammatory conditions. The study found that the groups pretreated with exposure to Champagne had the highest level of cell restoration compared to the group that wasn't. The study's co-authors noted that it was too early to conclusively say that drinking Champagne is beneficial to brain health but that the study does point researchers to more exploration in this area.

Wikipedia :: Champagne (wine)

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