I’ve recently been reading The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo, which is all about the rise of the champagne empire under the entrepreneurial woman behind an iconic orange label- the Widow Clicquot. It’s a fascinating look into the little region of the world of Champagne, France, and I thought I would share the some fun tidbits with you so that you can pull out over your next glass of bubbly at your next party!
Photo by Sam Howzit
Champagne is sparkling wine that is produced from grapes that are grown in the Champagne region of France, and it is illegal to name anything Champagne or thereabouts if it doesn’t come from this area. Sparkling Wine or Bubbly are generally the terms used for similar products that are grown in other areas, and this principle is also present in drinks such as Tequila and Agave.
It is legend that a seventeenth century blind monk named Dom Pierre Perignon discovered the secret of champagne’s bubbles in the cellars of his abbey and that he was “drinking the stars”. In truth, Dom Perignon was a talented wine taster but did not in fact discover champagne – he was actually trying to get rid of the bubbles in the abbey’s wine. It was actually the British who discovered the delightfulness that was champagne.
Champagne sparkles and bubbles because it is sealed in a bottle before fermentation of the wine is complete and that it is actually the sugar in wine that caused this fermentation process. Many eighteen century wine makers had great problems regarding the fermentation process, as it sometimes left residues in the casks that had to be naturally deposited of, so sometimes they would light a small area with sulfur within the champagne to dispose of the yeast. Other times, they would have to drain the champagne from cask to cask to leave the residue behind.
The Madame de Pompadour, mistress of the King of France once said that “Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman more beautiful after drinking it,” and it is said that the shallow goblet-style champagne glasses that were popular in the 1920’s jazz era was modelled after Madame de Pompadour’s breasts.
A vintage champagne is made from the grapes of one years’ harvest (so all the grapes from the same year and the same harvest) while a non-vintage champagne is made from a blend of harvests from different years.
The ripeness of the grapes and the sugar that is added after the second fermentation process effects the sweetness of a bottle of wine. Wines labeled Brut Zero have no added sugar, ensuring less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre, and are usually very dry. Extra Brut has less than 6 grams of residual sugar per litre, Brut has less than 12 grams, Extra dry has between 12 and 17 grams of residual sugar, Sec has between 17 and 32 grams, Demi-Sec has between 32 and 50 grams and Doux has 50 grams of residual sugar per litre. So if you like your wine sweet, go for the Sec or up. Confusingly though, the word Sec actually means dry in French.
Photo by Kovis Lo
Prestige Cuvee: A cuvee de prestige is a blended champagne wine that is considered to be a producer’s top range. You can find many famous lables including Cristal, Moet and Chandon, Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot in this range.
Blanc de noirs: This is a French term meaning “white from black” or “white of blacks” and is a white wine that is made from “black” grapes. The colour of the grapes is generally a red colour (not actually black as the name suggests) and the juice is obtained through minimal contact with the skins, leaving some red skin pigments in the wine itself.
Blanc de blanc: Meaning “white from whites” this Champagne is what is referred to in Western drinking rooms as Chardonnay. These Chardonnay grapes are from a particular area of the wine-producing region and uses only white grapes.
Rose: Rose or Pink Champagne is a sweeter alternative of sparkling wine that was made in the 1950’s and 1960’s because the American public though that the brut champagne was too dry. Rose is produced by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to soften in liquid for a brief time.
So there you go, some fun little facts about champagne that you can whip out over your glass of bubbly at your next celebration. And if you want any more fun champagne party ideas, check out my post Celebrate New Year’s with Champagne!