30 Dec 2011 Resolution: Drink More Champagne
“My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.”
These are said to have been the last words of John Maynard Keynes, English economist and father of macroeconomics. For a wine to have so profoundly touched the heart of this famous number cruncher there must be something magical about this beverage. Although there is no shortage of great sparkling wines from all over the world, most of us acknowledge that there are some occasions, like New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, weddings, or anniversaries, where only the “real” thing will do. If you are looking to select a special bottle for the one you love or to find that especially good Champagne you will love drinking . . . here’s what you need to know.
What is Champagne?
Only wines grown in Champagne, the northernmost wine region of France, and made in accordance with strict winemaking regulations are allowed to use the designation Champagne.This region has a very special soil with high levels of chalk and limestone. Along with a cool climate, the soil is said to create the necessary conditions to grow grapes with the right fruit and acid balance to create the magic of Champagne. Most Champagne is made by creating a blend of the white grape Chardonnay, known for its elegance, and two red grapes: Pinot Noir, known for its power, and Pinot Meunier, known for its fruitiness.
How is Champagne made?
Grapes are harvested by hand when ripe and a still wine is created from each of the three grape varieties. The winemakers then create their particular blends from this vintage—and possibly others as well—to create a consistent taste sometimes referred to as their “house style.” In excellent years some houses produce vintage Champagne. Containing only grapes from that specific year’s harvest, it expresses the character of that vintage rather than their typical house style.
Next, the blend is added to a bottle with liquid yeast and a bit of sugar. Topped with a crown bottle cap, this bottle is rested on its side for secondary fermentation, which traps the carbon dioxide produced, to create bubbles. The wine is left to age with the dead yeast cells for at least 12 months and sometimes up to 3 years to add richness and a sometimes-yeasty flavor to the wine.
After aging the wine, the winemaker removes the yeast sediment and adds a blend of wine and sugar, called dosage,to the wine before corking. The amount of sugar in the dosage determines the Champagne’s sweetness. Sweetness styles, listed from driest to sweetest, include Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-sec, and Doux.
Hopefully, gaining a better understanding about what makes the wines of Champagne so special has inspired you to enjoy a glass (or two) this New Year’s Eve. . . or to make any day a special celebration. Just as other great relationships take time to mature and to produce a deeper understanding, your appreciation of and love for this legendary wine have an opportunity to grow with each glass of Champagne.
Champagnes To Try
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV
Once a legend on the New York party scene, in 1978, Nicolas Feuillatte inherited a vineyard in Champagne and began creating sparklers for friends like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. An emphasis on red grapes in the blend creates this Champagne with flavors of apple and pear. Enjoy this as an aperitif or with fresh shucked oysters and that special someone. Retails for approximately $29.99
Ployez-Jacquemart Brut NV
Their passion for Champagne and each other inspired Marcel Ployez and Yvonne Jacquemart to craft wines from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards that taste like they cost twice as much. Sixty percent of the blend is Pinot Noir and Meunier—making this a very aromatic, rich sparkler. Invite that special someone to share this sparkler and have an evening guaranteed to ignite some sparks! Retails for approximately $39.99
Billecart Salmon Rosé NV
Forget whatever you think you know about pink champagne! This elegant Rosé, made mostly from Grand Cru vineyards, is salmon colored with flavors of strawberry and citrus, as well as floral hints with a refreshing finish. Sipping this pink sparkler with chocolate-covered strawberries is guaranteed to be a memorable experience. Retails for approximately $86.99
Pierre Peters Cuvée Spéciale 2000
If only the best will do, then this 2000 Blanc de Blancs (white from whites) Champagne, made entirely from Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes, is the one for you. Pierre Peters is one of a new breed of artisanal producers making what is sometimes referred to as grower Champagne. One whiff of this wine and you know there is love in the glass, with aromas of ripe lemon, spice, and caramel. Retails for approximately $86.99