Types of Sweet White Wine: Champagne

Types of Sweet White Wine:  Champagne

Many people recall their very first taste of wine as having been Champagne; Champagne is incorporated into many celebrations and rites of passage; in some ways, drinking Champagne is itself a coming-of-age tradition.  Around the turn of the 20th century, Champagne producers launched a successful marketing campaign which associated this sparkling beverage with royalty and aristocracy.  Today it retains much of that image, and is used to bring in the New Year in many countries.  It is also used to christen new ships.

Champagne is typically made of white Chardonnay or dark-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.  Even these dark-skinned varietals produce white wine, though, since the skins are not incorporated into the mix, and it is the skins which give red wines their dark color.  Four other grape varietals are sometimes used, but very rarely; these include Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.  Although champagne is almost always a white wine, there are pink champagnes which are produced by allowing the skins to contact the juice extracted from the grapes for a short time period.  Adding a little Pinot Nor red wine may also stain white champagne pink.  Champagne can be either sweet or dry.

The word “Champagne” refers specifically to sparkling wines which are produced in the Champagne region of France—not simply to sparkling wines.  The name is legally protected by the Treaty of Madrid and the Treaty of Versailles.  It is increasingly uncommon to find mislabeled Champagnes produced in other regions.  The Romans were the first people to harvest wine from the Champagne region, though sparkling wine was not invented until later.  The oldest discovered record dates back to 1531 and can be traced to Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire.

A-bottle-of-champagneHow are the bubbles produced in Champagne and other sparkling beverages?  After the initial fermentation of the wine, the wine is bottled and several grams of yeast and rock sugar are introduced.  This induces a second fermentation process inside the bottle.  This process takes an additional year and a half—at the very least.  Champagnes which are made from a single harvest have to be matured for three years or more.

Champagne should be served between 45 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not sure how to open a champagne bottle without making a mess?  Hold the cork and rotate the bottle instead of pushing out the cork.  This will keep it from flying across the room and spilling champagne.  At particularly formal events, champagne may even be opened using a saber!  There is even a word for this technique: sabrage.

You probably won’t be using a saber to open your champagne, but you can still open your champagne bottle with style and preserve the bubbles by pouring it correctly.  Tilt the glass at an angle and pour down the edge of the glass instead of straight down in the middle.  For good food pairings, try cheese, risotto, pasta, anything salty or fried, seafood (preferably not too fishy), or semi-sweet dessert items.

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