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Champagnes

Updated on July 7, 2010
Photo by Diana Myrndorff
Photo by Diana Myrndorff

The sparkling white wine known as champagne is made, according to a special method defined by law, from grapes of three varieties grown in the Champagne region of France. The grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, both of which are black grapes, and Chardonnay, which is a white grape. The process of fermenting the wine a second time inside a corked bottle, thus giving it the 'mousse' (sparkle), was devised by Dom Pierre Per-ignon, a Benedictine monk at the abbey of Hautvillers in Champagne in around 1685. Having been picked, the grapes are put into a wide, shallow press; only juice obtained from this first pressing may be used to make champagne. Known as the must, this juice is then put into wooden or stainless steel vats, where the first fermentation occurs: the natural yeasts transform the grape sugars into alcohol, and a still white wine results. After 6 weeks, the wine is racked off to clarify it. The wines from the various grape varieties are then tasted and blended to make the cuvee (blend). A small quantity of cane sugar and fermenting agent is added to the wine, which is then bottled for the second fermentation. The bottles are laid in the cellars, where the temperature remains at 10°C. The bottles are kept for 3-7 years (sometimes longer) while the wine matures and the buble is produced. The sediment that forms during this time is removed by the bottles being put into racks with their necks pointing slightly downwards; gradually, over several months, the bottle is shaken, rotated and inclined until it is upside down, when the sediment rests on the cork. This process is known as the remuage and is followed by the degorgement. The neck of each bottle is dipped into a subfreezing liquid, which freezes the sediment. The bottle is righted and at the same time the cork removed. The sediment is then blown out by the force of the gas inside. The bottle is then topped up with wine of the same blend, a small quantity of cane sugar and old wine. The percentage of cane sugar added increases according to whether the champagne is to be named brut, sec or demi-sec. A new cork is inserted, the bottle is labelled and the champagne is now ready.

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