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SPARKLING WINE AND CHAMPAGNE
SPARKLING WINE AND CHAMPAGNE
Sparkling wine and champagne are associated with toasts, merrymaking and happy moments and are used to celebrate, commemorate and indulge. Selling more than 300 million bottles per year, Champagne is synonymous with celebration. Who can celebrate a New Years Eve or toast the speeches at a wedding without popping corks and sipping sparkling bubbles? Let us raise our glasses and drink the stars!
Sparkling wine and Champagne
There are many sparkling wines produced around the world, yet most legal structures reserve the word “champagne” exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne regulations. The name Champagne is legally protected by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
Over seventy countries adopted similar legal protection. Canada, Chile and Australia recently signed agreements that the term “Champagne” can only be used to products produced in the Champagne region.
History of Champagne
Champagne dates back about 300 years and was developed in the Champagne region, a three hour drive north-east of Paris. Legend has it that a monk named Dom Pérignon were making wine and failed to complete the fermentation before bottling and corking the wine. During the cold winter months the fermentation remained dormant, but with the arrival of spring, the fermentation resumed producing carbon dioxide. It is told that Dom noticed some of the bottles of wine exploded in the cellar, so he opened a bottle and poured the wine. His famous words were “Come quickly! I’m drinking stars.” The words still remain with many of us every time we open a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
The difference in the process of making Sparkling Wine and Champagne:
Today, sparkling wine is produced worldwide and is usually labelled “Méthode Champenoise” if it is made by the French method. Champagne-making is labor intensive:
- The Cuvee: The cuvee is still wine selected for Champagne making. Quality wine made from grape varieties, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, is usually selected. Mixed cuvees are also used and the alcohol content is typically around ten percent. A still wine process involves natural sugars converted into alcohol.
- The Tirage (liqueur de triage): The process where sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients are added to the cuvee is called “the Tirage.” After the cuvee, sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients are mixed; the bottling and corking process begins. The bottles are typically made of thick walled glass. The tirage is stored in cool cellars and fermentation will slowly produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- Maturation: The yeast cells die and the fermentation process are usually complete within a couple of months. The Champagne is allowed to age from one to three years. More expensive Champagnes age for up to five years. The yeast cells add “yeasty” flavours to the champagne during the aging process.
- Riddling (remuage): After the aging process, the bottles are turned upside down at a seventy-five degree angle. The “riddler” turns each bottle 1/8 of a turn while it is upside down. The riddling process allows the dead yeast cells, sediment or lees to build up in the neck of the bottle.
- Disgorging or dégorgement: In order to get rid of the lees, the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap is removed and the carbon dioxide forces the frozen part out.
- Dosage: The content is filled up with a measured amount of champagne and cane sugar, also referred to as liqueur d’expedition. The wine is shaken in order to help integrate the wine with the liqueur d’expedition. The new cork is wired down to secure the pressure of the carbon dioxide.
The process of Sparkling Wine is less labor intensive. Large stainless steel tanks are used for the second fermentation process. Sparkling wine can also be produced by carbon dioxide injection. The “bulk” process of sparkling wine making is referred to as Charmat.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine corks
The cork oak (Quercus suber) is the primary source of cork products. Countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, France, Tunisia and Italy. Cork is the water-resistant cells that separate the outer bark from the delicate interior bark. Sparkling wine corks are fifty percent larger than the opening of the bottle and are built from several sections agglomerated corks. The corks are compressed prior to insertion into the bottle. The longer a cork has been in a bottle the less it returns to its original cylinder shape.
Let us raise our glasses to Dom Pérignon and drink the stars!