Category Archives: Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Too Much Rain and Champagne Grapes

too-much-rain-and-champagne-grapesToo much rain can bring fungus and mildew to the delicate grapes grown in the Champagne region of northern France. This area east of Paris and north of Dijon receives a cool, oceanic climate ideal for the fresh, crisp taste of French Champagne.

The primary grapes used for making the sparkling wine with the appellation of Champagne are:

  • Pinot noir
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris may be added
  • Arbane grapes can also be used in the blend

The wineries use skilled winemakers to produce unique blends of the fine sparkling wines using only 2,050 liters of the juice from a press of 4,000 kilograms of grapes.

Champagne weather

This region of France is located at about 49 degrees north latitude. Epernay, and Troyes are cities in this region of vineyards. Historic Reims is the unofficial capital of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Annual rainfall is in the range of 600-650 millimeters throughout the year. The average temperature is 11 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Complex weather patterns mixing a North Atlantic oceanic climate with some continental dryness keep the temperature around the same year-round. The vines in the Champagne region required this consistency. This region receives about 1,650 hours of sunshine each year. In contrast, Burgundy and Bordeaux receive around 2,000 hours of sun annually.

An early spring frost can kill the delicate buds and even ruin the vines. Champagne’s growers always keep an eye on the temperature. Less than normal rainfall will result in dried out grapes while too much rain will attract pathogens that can destroy the vines.

A fungal mycelium can develop when the soil is too wet. The result is a white, powdery mildew coating on the leaves of the vine. Black spots may also appear on the leaves and stalks. The tender grapes can dry out since the mildew interferes with photosynthesis and transpiration.

Grapes that survive a mild mildew infection will not have the taste necessary for a good vintage. This can cost vintners millions of Euros and dollars since their sparkling wines are the major export from this region of France.

Changing weather patterns

The climate affects the flavor of the cuvee, the juice that will be fermented into sparkling wine. The grapes must be harvested on the right days for the ideal flavor. This is les vendages, an event that lasts for two weeks during August in the rolling hills of Champagne.

Climate change is a controversial issue with many opinions on natural and human-made influences. French wine grape growers are very concerned about the effect of even one or two degrees of warming trends on their vineyards. Harvest times have been earlier during the past few years according to several sources including Nature.com, as a result of warming trends.

Scientists continue to study the effect of greenhouse gasses in this area of Europe and its relation to the earlier harvest season for grapes and other fruits. This is phenology, the study of changing seasonal natural phenomena, mainly weather, on plant and animal life. Studies on the effects of climate change with increasing rainfall are important to wineries around the world.

Winemakers in the Champagne region of France will hopefully continue to produce the famous bubbly drink that carries their region’s name.

The Proper Pour

the-proper-pour

Champagne is a drink that works in multiple scenarios. Whether celebrating with a group of friends or having an intimate evening with a special someone, champagne is a fine choice. Pouring champagne is something of an art, but it is one that can be easily mastered with the right information. Here is a quick guide to how to properly pour a glass of champagne.

Chill the Bottle.  Pouring champagne begins long before you are ready to open the bottle. To start off on the right foot, make sure that you chill your champagne. Place the bottle in ice in a wine bucket for roughly an hour or two. If you don’t have a wine bucket, you can achieve the same effect by allowing the bottle to chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Wrap the Bottle.  There is more to wrapping the bottle of champagne in a napkin than just style. The practical reasoning behind this is that it will absorb condensation, allowing for an easier grip on the bottle, and soak up any loose drops of bubbly that slip past the glass. A tea towel is your best bet, as it will absorb the most loose liquid, but you can still substitute a linen napkin in a pinch.

Pop It Open.  Perhaps the most exciting part of the process is opening the bottle. There is a sense of electric anticipation as you unwrap the foil and prepare to push the cork from its tight hold in the mouth of the bottle. During this, be sure to hold your hand over the cork. Some bottles can be tricky, and the cork can pop all on its own. To avoid injury or accident, keep one hand over the cork, pointed away from anyone’s face or any nearby glass.

The Pour.  The real artistry of serving champagne exists in the moment of the pour. Do not pour champagne with one hand and hold a glass in another, as it can easily slip without proper support from both hands. Instead, pour into glasses on a stable surface, or in the hands of those you are serving. When you pour, you want to hold the bottle in two spots: one hand should go on the bottom of the bottle, where the indented area known as the punt resides, and the other should hold the bottle from the side as you tilt.

There are many opinions out there on how to properly pour a glass of champagne. The more widespread opinion is that you should keep the glass flat and pour the bottle from an angle, aiming directly for the base of the glass. This is the way that the French have been pouring champagne for years. Since it is the country where the drink originates, no one thought twice about questioning the method. Still, questioning the status quo can be beneficial, as some French researchers discovered.

While the traditional method might be the popularized approach, the researchers discovered that there is a much more scientific way to go about pouring a glass of champagne. When pouring, champagne is handled in the same manner as pouring a glass of beer, with the glass itself on an angle as it is being filled, more CO2 is preserved. Carbonation is quite important in maximizing the pleasure of champagne, so you want to have high levels of CO2 in each glass. The “beer pour” tactic might not be as widespread as the traditional methods, but it is a way that will allow you a much more satisfying amount of champagne that you can raise a glass to.

The Most Expensive Champagnes in the World

the-most-expensive-champagne-in-the-world

Champagne has become something that is enjoyed by pretty much everyone at least sometimes, but there are still types out there that evoke the incredible expense that it used to signify. We may not all be able to taste these vintages ourselves, but we can live vicariously through those who are lucky enough to have a glass or bottle of these following champagnes:

Dom Pérignon ($1,950) is a well known name throughout the world, and the remaining bottles of this vintage sell for an ever-increased sum as their numbers decrease. Moët et Chandon has in fact made a name for itself as a premier champagne house largely on the strength of this vintage.

Krug Clos d’Ambonnay ($3,500) manufactured with red wine grapes, Krug’s foremost product is a sublime and masterful example of champagne which demonstrates ably why Krug is such a respected name in the champagne world.

Perrier Jouët Champagne ($6,485) is a sparkling wine made with the very best grapes the Perrier Jouët house can grow, and it is clear when tasting this why such a degree of discernment is warranted. These bottles are sold in groups of twelve, so you won’t run out too quickly.

The Champagne Cristal Brut 1990 ($17,625) was only ever produced in limited quantities, and when you combine rarity with quality you get a price tag like this one. This is an elegant and memorable vintage well worth the wait and the cost.

Krug 1928 ($21,000) is Krug’s second entry on this list, and a bottle sold for $21,000 at auction in 2008. The grapes used were grown in 1926, and the first bottle was manufactured in 1938, making this a very old sparkling wine that has justified its cost with a tremendous and widely-lauded pedigree.

Dom Pérignon White Gold Jeroboam ($40,000) marks the other champagne house with two entries on this list. At over twenty times the cost of ‘ordinary’ Dom Pérignon, White Gold Jeroboam is a masterwork of delicate sparkling wine and wholly deserves its royal appellation.

Pernod Ricard Perrier Jouët ($50,000) comes in a set of twelve bottles, and a variety of liquors have been used, allowing you to choose one that most suits your taste. These liquors are both exotic and of the highest quality, combining with some of the finest grapes France has ever grown for a truly spectacular champagne.

Fifty thousand US dollars is a huge sum, even for twelve bottles of champagne. So would you believe that the most expensive item on this list does not come in a set of twelve, but that the price represents one single bottle? Here is the most expensive champagne in the world and, as far as we can tell, in all of history.

Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck ($275,000) is by far the most expensive champagne in the world. In 1916 a considerable shipment of this champagne was sent via sea from France to Russia, intended for the Imperial Court. The ship carrying this shipment was sunk by a German U-boat, however, and it lay at the bottom of the icy Baltic for over eighty years, until being discovered in 1998. Astonishingly, many of the bottles survived intact, and unsurprisingly this extraordinarily rare vintage commands a tremendous price tag, but all accounts suggest the quality of the wine justifies it.

The champagne world is always evolving however, and who knows what will be released, or even discovered, in the future? We’re always keeping an eye out for new rare and expensive champagnes.

Romance and Champagne

When the Romans were attempting to establish viable vineyards in the Champenois region of northern France around the fifth century, things didn’t look good for the now highly-prized wines from that region.  Pale and pink in color, the wines from that region were not very full-bodied, and often very acidic.  Also, the temperate north rather than the warmer south meant that the grapes failed to ripen fully, and cold winters often stopped the fermentation process altogether in the chilly months, only for it to start again as the temperature rose in the Spring – at worst, casks and bottles would burst under gas pressure, and at best, the wine would be full of bubbles, much to the horror of the French makers, who considered this a terrible fault.

However, the British, not generally renowned for their culinary good taste during the 18th century, developed something of a taste for sparkling wine, especially amongst the upper classes and aristocracy.  Not to be outdone, the French claimed back their previously considered “spoiled” wine as their own, and champagne as a drink associated with wealth and celebration was born.

What’s in a Name?

Champagne obviously takes its name from the region in which the famous pinot noir grapes are grown, but did you know that one of the most famous brand names in the champagne industry – Dom Perignon – was actually that of a 17th century monk?  A perfectionist, Dom Perignon insisted on the vines now growing above a certain height, and limiting contact between pressing and grape skin, thus standardizing the pale perfection of today’s champagnes rather than the more pinkish hue generally expected from a white wine made from red grapes.

Sweet as Sugar

The British didn’t let their early fascination with sparkling wine wane, and much debate and experimentation went on with regard to making it bubble.  Christopher Merret, a scientist, opined that pretty much any wine could be made to sparkle by adding sugar.  Poems and plays of the period mention the beauty of a glass of sparkling champagne with increasing regularity, with an early link between champagne and romance made in the 1693 play “Love and a Bottle”.

Vive la Revolution

Champagne even managed to show some love back during the end of the eighteenth century – champagne merchants happily changed the titles of noblemen and women to the revolution approved “Citizen” on their invoices, thus saving many lives.  As the aristocracy fled across Europe to safety, many of the brand names we recognize today fled with them.

You might think that EU rules and regulations about what can and cannot call itself champagne might have taken some of the modern day romance out of this most luxurious of sparkling wines, but whether it’s engagement or wedding, special occasion or just because we can, champagne is still our first choice of wine to add a special glamor and polish to any occasion.  From a humble and disappointingly flat product that was a laughing stock amongst its more established wine-growing neighbors, this acidic formerly pink drink has pulled off the most romantic transformation of all, truly going from ugly duckling to beautiful swan.

How to Choose a Champagne

how-to-choose-a-champagneA good champagne can help make or break your next big party, dinner, or celebration. Champagne is a great choice for these kind of events, but choosing the right champagne can often be intimidating, especially to a beginner. With so many different types, brands and prices, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with how to choose a champagne. Thankfully choosing the right champagne is much easier than it looks. The following are just a few tips to help you find the right champagne for your next big event.

Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine

Before purchasing your Champagne, its important to note the difference (and similarities) between it and sparkling wine. Champagne with a capital “C” is produced only in the French Champagne region. These are typically more expensive than most, and are typically of a high quality. Sparkling wines produced elsewhere are also commonly referred to as champagne, but with a lowercase “c”.  However, this does not mean these are necessarily worse than those with a capital “C”.  It is simply a matter of geography, rather than quality. Many of these sparkling wines are labeled as “Methode Traditionelle“, meaning they are produced in the same manner as other Champagnes.

Try not to Focus on the Price

A common mistake that many wine enthusiasts and newcomers alike make is judging a bottle’s merit solely on its price tag. While it’s true that many higher priced Champagnes are great choices, you can also find a gem at a bargain. Just as sparkling wines are often just as good as French Champagne, don’t dismiss that $15 bottle of Champagne so readily, many of these cheaper wines are as good or better than their $40 or $50 counterparts.

Dry or Sweet?

When most people think of Champagne, they tend to imagine a dry, bubbly white wine. However, Champagne actually comes in a wide range of sweetness levels. The driest of which is known as Brut or Extra Brut.  Sweeter wines are known as Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux. Deciding between a dry or sweet Champagne comes down to a couple of factors, the most important of which is simply personal preference. Many people dislike the dry taste of Brut, and opt for a Sec Champagne or sweeter, which is great if you have a sweet tooth.  You should also consider how you are serving your Champagne when choosing its sweetness. Dry Champagnes are great on their own and pair well with food, while sweeter Champagnes go great with dessert or for serving after a meal.

Identifying Different Types of Champagne

Identifying Different Types of Champagne

There is a fine line that can be drawn between champagne and sparkling wine. While sparkling wine can come from anywhere in the world, champagne can only come from the Northern France region of Champagne. The fizzy cocktail comes in many varieties, but it is not as hard to tell them apart as you may think. There are a few ways you can identify the subtle differences in this increasingly popular drink.

Non-Vintage Champagne

Non-vintage champagne is made every single year by producers, whether the harvest is good or bad. When poured into a glass, this brand’s bubbles dissipate quickly and will have a very distinct taste of citrus flavors. Honeysuckle and candied orange peel will cover your tongue with its acidic backbone and it comes from a different blend of wines.

Vintage Champagne

Vintage champagne is different than non-vintage in the sense that it is only produced in years that are considered to have a very good harvest. To give the champagne its complexity, only the current year’s grapes are used to produce this wine. Fermentation comes from the aging process when the wine is in close contact with the yeast, adding certain characteristics to the wine. When you open a bottle of vintage champagne, you will notice a more pronounced aroma of yeast on your nose and it will have a strong breadiness taste to it.

Tete de Cuvee, or Prestige Champagne

This is the best wine that a champagne producer will yield. Tete de Cuvee means Head Of The Year and these fine wines are only made every three to four times in a decade, during exceptional years only. Brands such as Dom Perignon carry this prestigious title and if you have ever had a glass of Dom, you will notice that the bubbles are much smaller and will linger for a considerable period of time. Prestige champagnes have a scent that is reminiscent of ripe peaches and fresh baked bread. These wines are also aged for a longer time in order to mature them beyond any other vintage brands.

Rose Champagne

There are several champagne houses that produce Rose Champagne. Since two of the grapes used to make this wine are red, exposure to the skins of these grapes are all that is needed to produce a Rose Champagne. The smooth citrus scent will heighten your sense of smell when you open a bottle of Rose, and you will notice a strong peach and under-ripened strawberry aroma accompanied by mild yeast tones.

Becoming a champagne connoisseur isn’t as difficult as it once seemed to be. Distinction among the various wines is rather easy to dictate once you know what to look out for. So, the next time you are in the wine aisle and are looking for a good bottle of celebratory champagne, you will now be equipped to make an educated and informed decision.

The Busiest Times of Year for Purchasing Champagne

the-busiest-times-of-year-for-purchasing-champagne

Champagne, a type of sparkling wine produced from grapes from the Champagne region of France, is among the most recognizable drinks in the world. It is used across the globe in times of celebration, and is often seen as an indulgent and luxurious beverage. With that being sad, it should come as no surprise that champagne is particularly popular during certain times of the year. In fact, champagne sales and consumption dip and peak throughout the 12-month calendar year, but their popularity always takes over during periods of significant celebration and, in particular, romance.

The Winter Holidays

New Year’s Eve is the biggest day for the consumption of champagne across the United States and in Europe, as well. Champagne toasts have become synonymous with ringing in the new year. According to experts, 360 million glasses of champagne are served across the United States on New Year’s eve. Many of those glasses are used for midnight toasts. According to restaurateurs, they do not sell as many individual bottles of champagne to table as many people would expect.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are also fairly popular holidays for champagne, as well. According to experts, champagne is a popular gift, as well as a popular drink during the holiday season. The same is true for Thanksgiving, which also has hardy champagne sales in the week leading up to the holiday.

Valentine’s Day

The week leading up to Valentine’s day sees a balloon in sales for champagne and other sparkling beverages. According to experts, about 1.6 million bottles of champagne are sold during Valentine’s day. While the numbers trail that of New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving,it is all relative. According to experts, sales of champagne dip heavily after New Years, spike again during Valentine’s day, the drop off once again until wedding season approaches. Valentine’s day is trumped only by the winter holiday’s in champagne sales.

Wedding Season

While, pound for pound, New Year’s eve and Valentine’s day, utilize the most bubbly out of any single calendar day, it can be argued that the wedding season is the biggest season for champagne consumption, and, thus sales. Running from early April, through early October, the wedding season kicks off quickly, but lulls in the deep summer months, only to pick back up in September, when temperatures begin to dip again. Wedding season, as many insiders call it, puts a premium on venues, photographers, and even florists, so it would stand to reason that the season, packed with love and commitment,would be a huge time for champagne sales and usage.

Most weddings include, at the very least, a champagne toast. When wedding season officially is, however, differs based on location. For example, in the east, it begins a bit later, often in May, but in the South it begins in March and lulls during the oppressive heat of July and August.

When to Buy

While champagne sales have their peak, buying champagne,for the most part, is a relatively easy process and is a simply transaction regardless of the time of year. If you, however, are searching for a particular vintage, brand or style of champagne, it is best to head into the store you are shopping at at least two weeks before you need the item, to ensure it is either in stock, or can be ordered in time for your celebration or romantic evening. Dealing with retailers directly may yield you the best results in finding a particular vintage.

The Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

the-difference-between-champagne-and-sparkling-wineCould you, if put on the spot, tell the difference between champagne and sparkling wine? If not, the difference between the two could be far more intuitive than you realize.

Differences Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine 

Champagne is a type of sparkling wine that comes from the Champaign region of France. That’s really the chief difference between champagne and sparkling wine – champagne comes exclusively from the Champagne wine region.

Secondary Fermentation Vs. Carbon Dioxide Injection.  There are some other differences, though.  Champagne usually gains its fizzy properties from a natural process known as secondary fermentation.

With sparkling wine, contrastingly, you sometimes will get carbonation through a man-made process of carbon dioxide injection. There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous about carbon dioxide or injecting it into drinks – that’s how most sodas get their zing!

There’s actually more to the differences between champagne and sparkling wine that this processes of secondary fermentation (champagne) or carbon dioxide injection (sparkling wine).

Appellation Rules and Grapes.  The appellation – the geographical marker that designates the region in which the grapes were grown and harvested – of champagne differs from sparkling wine in a few important ways.

Champagne often uses pinot meunier (black wine grapes) or pinot noir (red wine grapes) to ultimately produce champagne. Green-skinned chardonnay grapes from the Champagne region of France are also sometimes used to make champagne.

The champagne in the Champagne region of France has been associated with France’s aristocracy for over four hundred years. In fact, appellation rules and labeling are taken very seriously and it’s illegal to falsely claim that your champagne derives from the Champagne region of France when it, in fact, does not.

Advantages of Sparkling Wine: Variety and Flavor.  A good way to think about the difference between champagne and sparkling wine is to say that all champagne is sparkling wine whereas not all sparkling wine derives from the Champagne region and can therefore be called champagne.

In many ways you could actually get more variety from sparkling wine than you can from champagne since sparkling wines are created around the globe. Austria, for instance, is a leader of high-end sparkling wines.

Flavor.  In terms of the flavors that champagne and sparkling wine offer, some people believe champagne has more of a creamy, nutty flavor whereas sparkling wine can have more of a fruity kick.

Price and Pairings.  Sparkling wine tends to be more affordably priced and more versatile in terms of pairings and the array of foods that go well with sparkling wine.

Cava (spanish wine) and prosecco (sparkling white wine) tend to be some of the more versatile kinds of sparkling wine. They go great with richer desserts as well as spicier entrees.

Recap of Differences 

Summing up, the chief difference between champagne and sparkling wine is that the former comes exclusively from the champagne region of France.

Sometimes sparkling wine is given its fizzy properties from a process known as carbon dioxide injection whereas champagne usually goes through secondary fermentation to get its bubbly qualities.

Sparkling wine comes from all around the world and has a greater versatility when it comes to the time of day in which it can be sipped and the food that it can be paired with.