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Behind Champagne

by 1-877-SPIRITS.COM 2. December 2013 22:58

Champagne was pioneered in the late seventeenth century by Benedictine cellar master Dom Pierre Pérignon at the Abbey d'Hautvilliers. Sparkling wines from other regions, even when made in the same way, cannot legally be called Champagne, but are known as being made by the méthode champenoise. True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region in northeast France. Most countries bow to this tradition by calling their sparkling wines by other names, such as spumante or Prosecco in Italy, Sekt in Germany and vin mousseux in other regions of France. Only in America do some wineries refer to their bubbling wine as "Champagne."
 
French Champagne is usually made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir or pinot blanc grapes. California "Champagnes" generally use the same varieties, while those from New York are more often made from the pressings of catawba and delaware grapes. The juice from these grapes is initially fermented in stainless-steel vats. A mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast is added, and it is then transferred to pressure tanks for a second fermentation that yields carbon dioxide and effervescence. It is chilled, sweetened, bottled, and left to mature.
 
Good Champagne is expensive, not only because it's made with premium grapes, but also because it's made by the méthode champenoise, a traditional method that requires the second fermentation in the bottle.
 
Champagnes can range in color from pale gold to apricot blush.  Their flavors can range from toasty to yeasty and from dry to sweet. A sugar-wine mixture called a "dosage," added just before final corking determines how sweet Champagne will be.
 
The label indicates the level of sweetness: brut (bone dry to almost dry-less than 1.5 percent sugar); extra sec or extra dry (slightly sweeter-1.2 to 2 percent sugar); sec (medium sweet-1.7 to 3.5 percent sugar); demi-sec (sweet-3.3 to 5 percent sugar); and doux (very sweet-over 5 percent sugar). The last two are considered dessert wines.

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