20 Interesting facts about Champagne
1. What is specific about the winegrowing region of Champagne – and what inspired the name of this distinct and precisely defined location (from the Latin word Campanian), - is the continuous limestone sub-soil which has a unique composition as it continuously delivers water to the vines.
2. Champagne wines are made exclusively from three grape varieties, or any combination thereof; two varieties are blue-skinned. For white wines, only the grape juice is processed, which must not have any longer exposure to the crushed skin – to stop the dark pigments staining the wine must. This is also one reason why the grapes are exclusively hand-picked during the harvest – even today.
3. If a Champagne wine is made of only one variety of grape, it bears the denomination Blanc de Blanc on the label, meaning that it is wine made exclusively from Chardonnay or Blanc de Noirs, i.e. the grape varieties Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
4. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ranks among the most traditional and pure Champagne wines made of Chardonnay, while Krug Clos d’Ambonnay is among the most well-known of single variety Pinot Noirs, and only from one small vineyard in the middle of a Grand cru village.
5. The following sentence just about defines the difference between Champagne wine and sparkling wine: “Every Champagne wine is sparkling wine, but not every kind of sparkling wine is Champagne!”
6. The bubble in the wine were ‘discovered’ – as the most reliable of the legends has it - by the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon from the Hautvillers abbey near Épernay, while his friend Dom Thierry Ruinart founded the first Champagne House ever in 1729.
7. Champagne is the only location where coupage (blending) is permitted to produce rosé wines; finished white and red wines are mixed, before the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
8. Yeast bacteria and a small amount of sugar are added before bottling; a crown cap seals the bottle which is then ‘put to sleep’ for several years in long mine shafts carved into a limestone bedrock. From the point of the yeast bacteria, a self-annihilation process takes place in the bottle: the bacteria feast on sugar and transform it into carbon dioxide, which perfectly saturates the wine in the closed environment. The pressure which occurs in the bottle is greater than in a tyre of a conventional lorry.
9. Dead yeast bacteria remain in the carbon dioxide saturated wine for several years and play a major part in the final taste. This is called autolysis.
10. Regular Champagnes without vintage indication on the label are blended before the secondary fermentation from wines of different vintages, regions and varieties. It was not until 1810 that the House of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin came out with the first vintage wine made exclusively from grapes harvested in the year which was indicated on the label.
11. Standard wines mature in-bottle for 3 years; vintage wines for 6 or more years. Extravagant wines marked as Oenothéque (Dom Pérignon) or Grand Vintage Collection (Moët & Chandon) which are left to age for up to several decades are considered a rarity. ‘We have grown up together for fifteen years!’ was the slogan of Bugsy’s Bar when it celebrated its anniversary with Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 1995, which was ‘born’ in the same year as the bar and waited whole fifteen years to debut.
12. Before shipment, the yeast and other sediments in the bottle are shaken down towards the bottle neck – manually in the old days and even today at small producers’ yards) and removed (riddling). The young widow Nicole-Barbe Clicquot, née Ponsardin, pioneered this method of table de remuage (system of removal of sediments from the bottle).
13. Connoisseurs’ choice are Magnum (1.5 litre) bottles. Allegedly, the wine ages to its best potential in a bottle of this size. It is also the reason why Bugsy’s Bar patrons who order a glass of Moët & Chandon get a portion from the Magnum bottle.
14. Bottle sizes bear the names of apostles and start at three litres (Jeroboam, Balthazar, Salmanazar, Methusalem, Nabuchodonosor…). These bottles, with their priceless contents, find their calling mainly at social events, e.g. the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where the silver screen stars signed a Methusalem bottle of Moët & Chandon, which was later auctioned off for charity.
15. Restaurant owners in the region of Champagne do not wash their champagne stemware in a dishwasher. The rinse leaves a thin film on the glass, which prevents the carbon dioxide from catching on and the visual effect of the bubbles in the wine is diminished.
16. The shape and size of the glassware is subject to trends: while bowl-shaped glasses were popular several decades ago, only to be replaced by flutes for the most part, and now the tulip-shaped glass holding more volume is the most frequently used. The prestigious brand Dom Pérignon was the boldest: this year’s stemware collection includes a glass holding 60 centilitres (almost a full bottle’s worth), which is in shape rather similar to the wine glasses from the region of Bordeaux.
17. Despite the criticism from sommeliers, strawberries served with Champagne have been ‘in’ since the day of Pretty Woman. Nonetheless, the criticism cannot but be agreed with as the taste of strawberries does nothing to complement the wine.
18. It is, however, certain that Champagne is an ideal accompaniment with any dish or menu – and it is especially the case of vintages. Even sweet desserts go well with Champagne wine, especially one that is sweeter, e.g. Moët & Chandon Nectar or Veuve Clicquot demi sec.
19. The méthode champenoise starts with fermentation at large steel vats. However few champagne houses are helding the first fermentation in small oak barrels. Krug is one of them. Advantage of the first fermentation in oak is that the exchanges which take place between the wine, the wood of the casks, and the oxygen. It favours a slow evolution of the wine, resulting in the exceptional longevity of all Krug champagnes.
20. Champagne wine can be indulged since early morning hours – which is to its advantage as it does not go against any etiquette conventions and commit you to a faux pas.
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