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Wine Wisdoms #12: Champagne 101

 
Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 at 2:20:51 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Champagne Toast

Though traditional Champagne is made as a white wine, it is made from a blend of red and white grapes including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The juice has no contact with the grape skins so despite the red Pinot Noir grapes in the blend, the final result is a white wine.

There are 7 basic steps to making Champagne by the Traditional Method, also called Fermentation in Bottle or Methode Champenoise:

1)  First Fermentation: a still wine is produced from each grape variety that is to be a component of the Champagne (usually Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier).

2) Blending: still wines are blended together from different grapes, vineyards or perhaps different vintages to create a consistent style.

3) Liqueur de Tirage: a blend of wine, sugar, yeast nutrients and a clarifying agent is added to the blend to set off a second fermentation in the bottle and create the sparkle. After the liqueur de tirage is added, the bottle is sealed temporarily.

4) Maturation: the bottles mature horizontally while CO2, yeast and alcohol build inside. An important process called yeast autolysis also occurs in which the yeast digests and interacts with the wine, creating unique flavor components. This process can last as long as ten years!

5) Riddling: the bottles alternate from horizontal to vertical positions to move the deposit of yeast up to the neck of the bottle, so it can be removed. In the past, a skilled person did this work by hand but recently Champagne houses have started to use mechanical techniques. A further period of aging typically occurs after riddling.

6) Disgorgement: the neck of the bottle is frozen so that the yeast deposit can exit the bottle in a clean way. During disgorgement, the pressure inside the bottle from the CO2 releases the deposit fully from the bottle.

7)  Dosage: a small amount of wine is lost during disgorgement so some more wine is added along with liqueur d’expedition (mix of wine and sugar). This process is called dosage and will vary depending on the desired sweetness of the resulting Champagne. Further aging can be done after this depending on the producer’s needs.

Finally the Champagne is sealed and dressed with a label and foil covering. Sparkling wines can be made in a variety of methods but traditional Champagne from France must be made in this method in order to be called “Champagne.”

Learn the best vintages and regions in Roger Voss’s “Champagne’s Brightest Stars”

Find affordable Champagne and sparkling wine at WineExpress.com

Shop great Champagne accessories like our beautiful Fusion Infinity Champagne flutes 

From all of us at Wine Enthusiast Companies, have a very Happy New Year!

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