As we all prepare to enjoy some Champagne in a night or two , we must thank a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon who was the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers who noted that the white wines of Champagne developed a sparkle in the spring following the vintage. With an early winter all of the natural sugar had not been transformed into alcohol and when the warmer weather of spring came the wine started a second fermentation. As the remaining sugar fermented, there was a natural effervescence of the wine in the barrels. He then created a special cork for the bottles which sealed the wine into an airtight container. Dom Perignon is credited with creating the Champagne that we enjoy today. In actuality he created a method to ensure the retention of this natural phenomenon and the marketing of it.
Dom Perignon is also credited with the discovery that by blending different wines of the area together before this second fermentation he could create a more distinct taste of the wine. Hence the concept of cuvee or blend, and he was able to make a wine that tasted similar year after year. Not only were different wines blended, but so were different years of wine blended to create this consistent taste. Whereas most wines are valued because of being from one small area, Champagne is a marriage of many different parcels of land, each valued for its unique quality. It is the one wine that is more famous for the sum, then for each part of the blend. This is one of the reasons that the great Champagne house do not like to declare a vintage, because invariably this wine will not by nature have the “taste” that they are known for.
The whole involved process to make Champagne is very involved, as there are many steps and time involved. It is also one of the few wines where sugar is also added before bottling and this is why there are many types of Champagne from each house. Brut wines receive the least amount of this special sugar syrup and it is the driest and Demi-Sec is the sweetest rating that one usually finds here. The French believe that the world says they prefer Brut wine, when in fact most people prefer Extra Dry which naturally is a little sweeter.
One of the unique aspects of Champagne is that the majority of the grapes used are the Pinot Noir varietal and the very intense method that the great houses go to pressing the grapes in the field during harvest to maintain the pale white color of the wine. The other grape varietal that is used for Champagne is the Chardonnay grape. On occasion one will also see a wine listed as Blanc de Blancs and this is made only from the Chardonnay grape, but this is only true for Champagne wines made in the towns of Reims, Ay and Epernay. Another side note that I am sorry to state is that almost every country adds additional taxes on sparkling wine as opposed to still wines
When you are ready to toast the New Year, please refrain from using the low saucer type “Champagne” glass. Classic lore attributes this glass as being made to duplicate Marie Antoinette’s breast, as this made it even more of reason to celebrate. I have always thought that her poor husband was cheated, and this glass allows the bubbles to dissipate very quickly. Please use a Champagne flute; this is a tall narrow glass as it maintains the bubbles for a much longer period of time. So please enjoy your revelry.