Champagne Information, History & More
From The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition:
Champagne is sparkling white wine made from grapes grown in the old French province of Champagne. The best champagne is from that part of the Marne valley whose apex is Reims, the center of the industry. Champagne was reputedly developed by a monk, Dom Pérignon, in the 17th cent. It is a mixture of black Pinot Noir and white Chardonnay grapes and is named for the vintners and shippers responsible for each blend. The small, slightly acid grapes are laboriously cultivated. After the first fermentation the wine is blended; it undergoes a secondary fermentation, then is drawn off into bottles reinforced to withstand high internal pressure, and is sweetened to induce further fermentation. The carbonic acid retained in the bottle after the final fermentation renders champagne sparkling. The wine is matured in the labyrinthine tunnels of the old chalk quarries of Reims. The sediment formed is collected on the cork by tilting the bottle neck downward and frequently rotating it by hand. After fermentation comes the dégorgement process, whereby the neck of the bottle is frozen and the cork is removed; the lump of frozen sediment shoots out, propelled by the pressure in the bottle. The space left is filled with the proper dosage of cane sugar dissolved in wine and usually fortified with cognac. Brut champagne is theoretically not sweetened; extra dry champagne, very lightly. An American sparkling wine called champagne is made in New York and California.
From Texas Wineries & Vineyards:
- 10% of the world's production of sparkling wines comes from the Champagne region of France.
- 20% of the sparkling wines in the US are Methode Champenoise.
- Most champagnes are fermented in stainless steel.
- About 80% of champagne produced is non-vintage. This means it is a blend of several years of harvest.
- Until around 1850, all champagnes were sweet.
- Champagne is put into heavy bottles with pushed up bottoms to hold the pressurized wine. This is another reason why champagne is more expensive than still wine.
- One of the most famous and esteemed types of champagne, Dom Perignon, is named after the good Benedictine monk who presided over the wine cellars at the Abby of Hautvillers in 1688. He was one of its chief promoters at a time when the bubbles that appeared in champagne were originally thought to be an imperfection. Dom Perignon excelled at combining various wines to create the ultimate blend.
- Long before champagne had bubbles, it was a still wine and was considered one of the best in France.
- One of the primary grapes used in the making of champagne is Pinot Noir, which is a red (or black) variety of grape. The interior of a Pinot Noir grape, however, looks very similar to a green grape. When its juice is extracted, therefore, it will look the same as a white wine. Thus, much of the finest clear champagne in the world comes from red grapes.