Wine Education and Tailor made French Wine Tours – Come Wine with me!

Champagne, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Bubbly

So much difference, both in quality and opinion, divides this most individual of  wines. Only by taking the time to understand the way it is made and the history of Champagne, can a true appreciation of it’s delight and originality be realised. A real gift from nature, this most inspiring of wines was discovered by accident and eventually harnessed by man to create a unique and noble wine to bring pleasure the world over.

No other wine has adapted itself to satisfy so many different occasions, and so many different reasons to enjoy it, the best being to my mind is ‘for no reason at all‘.

‘The Day They Invented Champagne’ was back in the 17th century, quite young in terms of wine history. It was originally a still wine, usually red with a smaller amount of white and even today some quantities of these are still produced, mainly for local drinking with the still red wine of ‘Bouzy’ being famous for  being added to Champagne in some cases, to make Rose Champagne.

The English can take the credit for this discovery as wine drinking, especially in the Café Society in London, was a very popular choice. As many wines had to travel great distances in barrels from area like Portugual, southern Spain [Sherry] and Madeira, it was frequently ‘fortified’ with a little brandy and sugar to keep the quality during these long sea voyages. This was not the case with wines from the Champagne region of France of course, as it was the nearest wine producing region to the British Isles.  

These high acidic wines experienced one major problem , in the colder climate of northern France and deep in the chalk cellars under the Champagne region, the fermentation process would be interrupted and the yeasts would lie dormant. Then, when temperatures increased in the springtime and after bottling, these yeasts would begin to feed on the residual sugars and carbon dioxide would be released into the wine. Many times this would cause bottles to explode and also this style of ‘effervescent wine’ was not acceptable to French tastes.However the ‘trendy set’ of London loved them and this ‘nouveau style’ of wine became immensely popular. The British wine merchants realised it’s potential and a stronger bottle was made to safely contain this new fashion in drinking. A disaster considered by the French became a phenomenal success by the cultural acceptance of English tastes.

However in these early days the man responsible for mastering this natural process was a monk at the Abbey in Hautvilliers, the now famous Dom Perignon. He also realised that blending wines from different grape varieties produced in different villages from the area created a more interesting and complex wine. The 3 main grape varieties have remained to this day in the quality controlled ‘Applellation Controlee’ system as a part of the Champagne creation process.Two black varieties, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white Chardonnay grape make up this classic trio.Oddly enough this is only AC wine production region in France that does not have to show this on the label. [See our section on ‘The Wine Quality Control Laws of Europe‘] 

These grapes, along with strict and specially perfected method of production is called ‘Methode Champenoise’ now re-named Methode Traditionelle. This system is  used everywhere in the world, including the UK, where the best sparkling wine is made, but only one is allowed to be called ‘Champagne’. So much has been developed over the years with supermarket brands produced by co-operatives, to the famous names of the Grande Marques Houses such as Moet et Chandon, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, Lanson etc and the smaller producers of lesser known brands, many of which achieve the great quality standards as the big names, sometimes even better. Knowing the difference is an adventure not to be missed. Come with me on this journey of discovery and I will show you how to become confident in the understanding and appreciation of the wonderful world of ‘Champagne‘.

Happy Drinking and to learn more about ‘Champage and All Things Wine‘, please join my ‘WineHunters Simply Wine Course’ for a Full Years Membership - ‘A Great Wine Adventure’

Alan Hunter

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