Wine Notes: Champagne (Part 2)
Methode Champenoise: How to Make Champagne
The champagne appellation is governed by very strict rules. Farmers are only allowed to yield 89-98 pounds per acre of grapes. The reason being is that this forces farmers to stress their vines. When vines have to fight for nutrients, water, sunlights etc., they produce fewer grapes. Fewer grapes means a greater concentration of sugar/quality than those grapes from a vine that yielded dozens more.
Grapes must be hand-harvested since machines tend to prematurely crush the grapes.
After the grapes are pressed and skins/stems/leaves (called the must) are left in contact with the juices for 1-3 days. The skins/leaves are then removed and at this point, the grape juice has undergone malolactic fermentation, which is the process by which malic acid (naturally present in the must) is converted into lactic acid, which contributes a rounder fuller mouthfeel to the juice.
At this point, some juices are left to age to allow flavors/natural sugars to increase. After the aging process comes the Assemblage Process. Wine labels (Dom Perignon, Krug, Ruinart) strive to produce bottles that are consistent with their brand. In order to achieve this, many wine must be combined with juices/grapes from previous years. These are called non-vintage champagnes. Wines that use grapes from one single year are vintage champagnes (expensive!).
I mentioned earlier that the best bottles of champange are known as “Cuvees Prestige.” Here are the main labels in Champagne…
- Louis Roederer’s Cristal
- Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle
- Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon
- Duval-Leroy’s Cuvée Femme
- Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill
- Perrier Jouet’s ‘La Belle Epoque’
- William Duetz
- Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin
Following the blending, the champagne is bottled and wine, yeast and sugar is added to the mixture before capping the bottle. During this bottle fermentation, active yeast feeds on the sugar to impart flavor to the champagne. This process happens over a long period of time in the chalky cellars underground. These caverns are very cold and stable, temperature wise. The longer these bottles are allowed to ferment, the higher-quality the champagne (which can be seen by the size of the CO2 bubbles – finer/smaller bubbles means higher-quality champagne).
When it’s time to remove the yeast, the bottle via machine is slowly tipped back and forth (riddling) until the dead yeast is at the top of the bottle. To remove the yeast, the neck is frozen and when the cap is removed, the yeast shoots out (disorgement).
Here comes another key step: the dosage. At this point, winemakers decide just how sweet they want their champagne to be. By adding a sugar syrup, they determine that. Those sweetness levels are as follows..
- Extra-Brut = no dosage, 2g per liter of champagne
- Brut = 15g per liter
- Sec = 17-35g per liter
- Demi-Sec (dessert wine) = 35-50g per liter
- Doux = 50+g per liter
As one final note, bottles of champagne can come in the following sizes…
Here’s a way to remember the main bottle sizes, according to this one website:
A useful mnemonic for these big bottle sizes is: My Judy Really Makes Splendid Belching Noises
AND that is champagne. I’m pretty sure there’s some section/chapter I’m overlooking so I’ll probably fail my quiz but oh well.
NEXT UP: Alsace.