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Champagne (beverage)

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Champagne or sparkling wine is a type of white wine in which secondary fermentation is allowed (or encouraged by the addition of sugar) to occur in the bottle; carbon dioxide is produced by yeast and remains dissolved in the wine, until it is released as bubbles when the wine is opened and consumed.

Legally speaking, in most countries, Champagne wine describes only wines in this style produced in the Champagne region of France. In the past, many other wines with these properties were also labelled Champagne, but trade agreements have banned this practice, except in the U.S. Wines made precisely in accord with the traditional French methods may instead labelled méthode champenoise, although even this term is now discouraged in favor of méthode traditionelle.

Along the same line, the French fashion and luxury products house Yves Saint-Laurent introduced a perfume called Champagne. After a very public legal dispute, they had to change the name to Yvresse.

Champagne is most often produced from a blend of red and white grapes. The only white grape permitted is Chardonnay, and the two red grapes are Pinot Noir and the otherwise obscure Pinot Meunier[?]. A Champagne produced from only Chardonnay is known as a blanc de blancs while a Champagne produced from only "black" grapes is a blanc de noirs, although these terms are used occasionally to describe non-sparkling wines. A Pink or rosé Champagne is made either by allowing the skins of red grapes to impart a small amount of color and then removing them, or by adding still red wine to the finished product.

Lying near the 50th degree of latitude, Champagne is one of the most northernly wine-producing regions, and because of this the grapes rarely get to a state that would be considered ripe for a maker of still wine. However, when combined with carbonation and a small amount of sugar, the result is a very appetizing, food-friendly wine.

Champagne is produced with varying degrees of sweetness, determined when the dosage is added just before the final corking. The sweetest level is doux (meaning sweet) proceeding in order of increasing dryness to demi-sec (half-dry), sec (dry), extra sec (extra dry), and brut (almost completely dry). Thus an extra dry champagne is actually sweeter than one labeled brut. Some producers also make an extra brut or a wine with no added sugar.

Low tonnages and a strictly limited region make "real Champagne" quite expensive (and, in the opinion of many wine experts, overpriced compared to sparkling wines from other areas). The price differential between Champagne in France and the U.S. means that Champagne is a common type of wine on the grey market.

Most Champagne is non-vintage, a blend of wines from several years. Typically the majority of the wine is from the current year but a percentage is made of "reserve wine" from previous years. This serves to smooth out some of the vintage variations caused by the marginal growing climate in Champagne. Most champagne houses strive for a consistent "house style" from year to year, and this is the hardest task of the winemaker. Good-quality vintage Champagnes are the product of a single high-quality year, and bottles from prestigious makers can be rare and expensive, retailing for 100 USD and considerably above. The most expensive of these are the prestige cuvées, or tête de cuvées, a class created by Moet et Chandon[?]'s Dom Perignon (wine)[?]. Others include:

Champagne bottles have particular names depending on their volume. The smallest size varies: a "quarter bottle" or "split" or "piccolo bottle" generally contains 187 ml or more rarely 200 ml. The "half-bottle" size is 375 ml. The standard bottle holds 750 ml. Larger than that come: Magnum[?] (1.5 l), Jeroboam (3 l), Rehoboam (4.5 l), Methuselah (6 l), Salmanazar[?] (9 l), Balthazar[?] (12 l), Nebuchadnezzar (15 l), and Sovereign (25 l). Aside from "magnum", which is a latin adjective meaning "great", the bottles were originally named for biblical kings, in order to associate Champagne with the splendour of ancient civilizations. The same names are used for bottles containing wine and port, however up to Methuselah they refer to different bottle volumes.


Here are several different sizes of Veuve Clicquot[?] bottles side by side
(L to R)On ladder: magnum, full, half, quarter.
On floor, I think these are the sizes: Balthazar, Salmanazar, Methuselah, Jeroboam

See Larger version

Champagne is now generally fermented only in standard or magnum sized bottles: these are used to fill any smaller or larger bottles. The largest sizes are typically bottled to order. The size of the bottle affects the quality of the effervesence produced and it is often said that Champagne fermented in magnum bottles is of better quality.

Champagne consumption is particularly associated with celebration, and is usually consumed before a meal, on its own or with light food. The removal of the champagne cork (under pressure several atmospheres of pressure from the carbon dioxide gas) produces a "pop" and, if the champagne is shaken before opening, can spray all over the place. The deliberate spraying of such champagne has become an integral part of the presentation of trophies to the top three placegetters in auto racing or the locker room celebrations in other sports, though many wine enthusiasts cringe at the wastage of usually very expensive champagne in such a manner.

Origins of Champagne:

Though hotly contested, it is often said that the Champagne process was invented by the English: the story goes that an English importer discovered that a batch of Chardonnay arriving from France had developed effervescence; it had been a longer than usual time in transit, and it had been much disturbed by the movement of the ship in which it was transported. The flavour of the wine seemed to be unaffected, and liking the effect, he at once set about trying to reproduce it, discovering that opening the bottles, adding a little sugar and the re-closing the bottle would indeed produce bubbly wine.

It is not known if this bit of apocrypha is how the discovery was actually made; however, it is certainly true that originally the secondary fermentation was done by the English importers, and that it was only when prompted by growing demand for the product that the actual producers in France began secondary fermentation themselves which would certainly have made financial sense

see also Wikipedia Cocktail Guide



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