Friday, January 8, 2010

CQ's Wine Guide to France Part 2: Champagne

  1. 17 Grand Cru vineyards
  2. Tete de Cuvee is the top quality wine for each producer
  3. Grower bottlers v. Grand Marques
Five areas of major production
  1. Montagne de Reims – mostly Pinot Noir
  2. Cote de Sezanne – mostly Chardonnay
  3. Cote de Blancs – mostly Chardonnay
  4. Valley of the Marne – all three grapes, but mostly Pinot Meunier
  5. Aube – mostly Pinot Noir


The region of Champagne lies on a chalk/limestone based soil known as Kimeridgian Clay. It is also one of the coolest and dampest climates in France. Because the grapes grow in extremely harsh conditions, they are harvested early to prevent being ruined in rain or frost. The “green” grapes are high in acid and low in sugar and create a tart thin still wine. The second fermentation of the “methode champenoise” creates richness (2.5˚ more alcohol), bubbles.  Sugar is usually but not always added to balance out the high acid levels in the form of dosage just before the bottling is complete.

Methode Champenoise
  1. Take one bottle of still wine, appropriately blended so as to maintain the house style. Ensure the glass is thick and strong to resist the increased pressure that will be created in the bottle.
  2. Add a dose of sugar solution and yeast, known as liqueur de tirage, and seal the bottle with a good fitting cap - like a beer bottle cap.
  3. Wait for the yeast to ferment the added sugar, creating more alcohol and, more importantly, carbon dioxide. As this gas cannot escape and is held under pressure, it will dissolve in the wine. This is where the bubbles come from. The pressure inside the bottle is now perhaps 80-90psi, equivalent to three or four times the pressure in the tyres on the average car.
  4. Leave the wine for some time, perhaps several years. The lees (dead yeast cells) will impart richness to the wine.
  5. Gradually turn and tap the bottle over time, so that eventually it is facing neck down, with the dead yeast cells sitting in the neck. This is known as remuage, or riddling.
  6. Dip the neck in freezing brine to create a frozen plug of wine, containing the dead yeast cells, in the neck of the bottle. Pop the cap and the plug, complete with lees, flies out. This is known as d├ęgorgement.
  7. Top off with a dosage of sweetish wine, seal with a cork, wire capsule and foil, and sell it for a handsome profit.
Major Producers
  1. Veuve Clicquot – famous for their “yellow label” wine. One of the best selling brands in America. Developed the process of riddling. Makers of Grande Dame.
  2. Moet et Chandon – LVMH’s flagship champagne house. Makers of Dom Perignon.
  3. Bollinger – innovators of barrel fermentation of Champagne. Popular in Britain. Sometimes know as “bolly” or “the boy”. Full style.
  4. Roederer – makers of Cristal. For many years the official Champagne producers to the courts of the Russian Czars. Cristal was created as a special cuvee for the Russian Royal family.

Leading Grower-Bottlers
  1. Gaston Chiquet
  2. Guy Larmandier
  3. Pierre Peters
  4. Egly-Ouriet

Helpful Websites

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