What’s So Great About Dom Perignon and Cristal Champagne?

whats-so-great-about-dom-perignon-and-cristal-champagneFor champagne lovers around the world, two of the bubbly names that top the list are Dom Perignon and Cristal. These high-priced champagnes both offer exceptional flavors and aromas, but their appeal is quite different to true connoisseurs of the world’s best wines and champagnes.

Dom Perignon.  The history of Dom Perignon is as intriguing as it’s distinguished reputation. In 1868 in Champagne, France, a young monk named Pierre Perignon was appointed procurator of the wine cellars at Benedictine Abbey. Under his faithful watch until his death in 1715, his wine making techniques created one of the world’s greatest wines. Through the centuries, Dom Perignon gained recognition as the perfect champagne with a taste and reputation that was unequaled.

Dom Perignon, now produced by Moet & Chandon, is a brand of vintage champagne that serves as the producer’s prestige label. It stands out among vintage wines because it’s never produced in weak years, and all grapes used to make each bottle are always harvested in the same year. This special wine making technique produces exceptional quality and flavor in vintage champagne with rare bottles that date back to 1921. Since grapes are harvested each year, the flavor of Dom Perignon varies by label date. Hot, dry harvest seasons produced aromas of spicy, nutty flavors like sandalwood, praline and marzipan, while wet harvest seasons produced floral bouquets with hints of vanilla, honey and almond.

The perfection of Dom Perignon lies in it’s grapes and harvest seasons. Only produced in certain years from 1921 to 2004, it is one of the most sought after champagnes in the world. Wine collectors and connoisseurs are willing to pay staggering prices for a bottle of Dom Perignon in certain vintage years.

Cristal.  Like Dom Perignon, Cristal also comes from the Champagne region of France. Started in 1833 by a young entrepreneur, Louis Roederer, these wines developed with rich, flavorful, fruity flavors in contrast to the more pungent flavors of Dom Perignon. Instead of putting focus on the grapes and harvest seasons, Louis Roederer put his focus on the soil where vineyards were nurtured with rich, robust soil that produced a different caliber of grapes.

In 1876, Louis Roederer II made a special champagne with a subtle, fruity flavor for Tsar Alesander II. As a huge success, the special blend was christened “Cristal”, and it paved the way for a different type of taste and aroma that had not been seen before in the world of great wines.

Cristal is a balanced blend of Chardonnay (40 percent) and Pinot Noir (60 percent). Produced only during years when grapes reached perfect maturity, Cristal has a delicate balance with a silky texture and fruity aroma. Flavors are enhanced by a high mineral soil content that brings out citrus notes. Cristal Rose, a blend of Chardonnay (45 percent) and Pinot Noir (55 percent) offers a smooth sweet flavor that brings out hints of red fruits, white flowers and sweet caramel. All Cristal champagne is aged for at least six years and left for eight more months to age. A welcome note to collectors and connoisseurs, Cristal can be stored for more than twenty years in the right environment without losing any freshness or flavor.

Why Is Champagne So Darn Expensive?

why-is-champagne-so-darn-expensiveAs a connoisseur of goods and services, the facts about products means something. You may be one who doesn’t take that much stock in something like a brand or a name. Still, you might be wondering why there is all this reverence for champagne. Why is this bubbly stuff so expensive? What is it about this particular beverage that keeps people coming back and consistently paying so much? It’s a good question and one that deserves closer scrutiny.

Facts: Just because something has a cork or is golden and sparkly, that does not make it “champagne.” In fact most of the time if you are drinking what you think is champagne it might not even be so. The fact is that this elixir comes from a very specific region of France; aptly named the Champagne region. This region of the world is markedly small and the costs of land here is among the most expensive anywhere in the world.

Another thing about this part of France is that it’s among the coolest wine regions in the world. The natural secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles we all know and love are a token of this climate. Still this small land area, unique climate, and cool temperatures make the amount of grapes you can grow here quite small. Supply and demand dictates that this specific type of wine made here is going to cost more simply because there is less of it to sell!

Process: Champagne is made by what’s known as “Methode Champenoise.” First the fermentation takes place in steel barrels. It is then followed by a secondary fermentation once it has been bottled; this process is yeast and sugar focused. Then there are four more processes that take place, aging, riddling, disgorging and dosage. This lengthy strategy for making champagne is obviously going to drive up costs.

Labor: Another component to the high cost of this stuff is the labor that is involved. As if the makers were sticking their noses up at us, many of the most revered champagne houses still use manual labor for these processes. There are some houses or some sections that still use machines but in many of the finest bottles of champagne you will see that hand skilled labor cost passed on to you who’s holding the bottle.

So, when you take into account all of the different factors standing before you, holding this bottle of bubbly it should be no surprise that champagne is so expensive. Maybe the final mythic component to this high cost is that people continue to pay for it. If there were not such a high demand or the bottles just sat on the shelves, then the cost would inexorably come down. But that doesn’t appear likely to happen at any point in the near future because any time there is a real celebration; birthday, wedding, anniversary, engagement, holiday, etc. people will inevitably reach for that bottle of bubbly.

So, until there is no more reason for people to buy it you should just hold your nose at the costs and raise your glass high! Champagne is the nectar of the gods!

The Proper Way to Drink Champagne

the-proper-way-to-drink-champagneSome people drink champagne as casually as any other wine, and that’s a great way to enjoy it. For most of us, only special occasions call for sparkling and it’s normal to have some apprehension: am I pouring it right? Can my guests tell that I have no idea what I’m doing?

The good news is that we do have rules and best practices for enjoying and serving champagne. When in doubt, fall back on these “proper” ways to drink champagne:

Know your varieties.

You may already know that sparkling wine and champagne are not necessarily the same thing — the real stuff only comes from the Champagne region, according to French law — but there’s more worth knowing.

Traditional champagne consists of three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. We think of it as a white wine, but it really comes from about two-thirds red grapes. Ah, the complexity.

Blanc de blancs uses only white grapes, while blanc de noirs uses mostly red pinot noir grapes. Other names generally refer to production methods.

Store it correctly. Champagne should be chilled, but not over-refrigerated. The best temperature range is 45° to 48°F, so if you do not have a wine chiller you can place the bottle in the fridge for a few hours before serving. To make it classier, use a nice ice bucket.

Besides the fact that you don’t want frigidly cold wine, the refrigerator also dries out the cork and ruins the bubbles. Saving the good stuff? Leave it in a cool, dark place until the occasion arrives.

Open it like a pro. No sword necessary; but the real trick is twisting the bottle while holding the cork, rather than the other way around. Professionals also swear by loosening, but not removing, the wire top.

Choose the right glass. Flutes serve formal and celebratory occasions, but only for style points. For regular enjoyment, use white wine glasses to let the champagne breathe a little.

Don’t overpour. Err on the side of smaller glasses and you’ll enjoy every sip with the right temperature and bubbles. Pour too much and the second half of your glass will get warm and flat.

If you pour heavy out of fear that the bottle itself will get flat, you need to upgrade your stopper.

Hold it by the stem. Pinky out, pinky in… it’s really up to you. Just don’t hold the bowl because it warms and alters the champagne.

Pair it with the right foods. The romantic view of champagne often leads people to drink it without food or with ironically bad choices like delicate foods and desserts.

Sparkling wine pairs best with savory, salty, fatty foods. A gourmet steak or a fried chicken sandwich would do equally well, and much better than a salad or slice of cake.

Know how to mix it. Mimosas aren’t the only way to go — you can create stunning combinations with St. Germain and other liqueurs, cognac, brandy, various citric and tart fruits, or other sweet-bitter additions.

Just be sure not to waste money on a complex, upscale champagne since you won’t be noticing all the flavors anyway. Stick with something dry and practice your pouring (you don’t want to use a jigger with something sparkling).

Remember that champagne is a wine meant to be enjoyed — not a sticking point for good manners. The rules exist not to exclude anyone, but to make sure everyone can discover the best route to great-tasting champagne in every glass.