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Champagne (beverage)

Champagne is a sparkling white wine, produced in the Champagne region of France. Other sparkling wines made with the traditional French methods may only be labelled méthode champenoise, or more frequently méthode traditionnelle.

How is Champagne made ?

Champagne is most often produced from a blend of black and white grapes. The only white grape permitted is Chardonnay, and the two black grapes are Pinot Noir and the otherwise obscure Pinot Meunier. Because most of the color in a red wine comes from the skins, the juice is pressed off quickly, leaving white juice. The Pink or rosé Champagne is made either by allowing the skins of black grapes to impart a small amount of color and then removing them, or by adding still red wine to the finished product. Grapes used for Champagne are generally picked earlier, when sugar levels are lower and acid levels higher.

The first fermentation begins in autumn, in the same way as any still wine, converting the natural sugar in the grapes into alcohol. This produces the "base wine". This wine is not very pleasurable by itself, being too acidic. At this point the blend is assembled, using wines from various vineyards, and, in the case of non-vintage champagne, various years.

The blended wine is put in bottles along with a small amount of sugar, called the tirage, and stored in a wine cellar, neck down, for fermentation. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, and the bottle traps it, dissolving it in the wine. As the bottles are stored, they undergo a process known as riddling (remuage in French), in which they are rotated a small amount each day, so that the sediment collects in their necks and can be removed. Until this process was invented (reputedly by Madame Clicquot) Champagne was cloudy, a style still seen occasionally today under the label methode ancestral. A dosage, with a varying amount of additional sugar, is added, and the bottle is corked. 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.

The wine cannot legally be sold until it has aged in the bottle for at least one year, but the longer the better. Vintage champagnes are aged in cellars for 6 years or more.

The most technical wine

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.

Champagne is now fermented in two different bottle formats, standard bottle (750 ml), and Magnum (1.5 l). In general, magnums are thought to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area favors the creation of appropriately-sized bubbles. However, there is no hard evidence for this view. Other bottle sizes, named for Biblical figures, are generally filled with Champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums. The smallest size varies: a "quarter bottle", "split", or "piccolo bottle" generally contains 187 ml or more rarely 200 ml. The "half-bottle" size is 375 ml. Jeroboam (3 l), Rehoboam (4.5 l), Methuselah (6 l), Salmanazar (9 l), Balthazar (12 l), Nebuchadnezzar (15 l), Melchior (18 l) and Sovereign (25 l). Sizes larger than Jeroboam are rare. 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 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


How to open the bottle ?

Champagne consumption is particularly associated with celebration, and is usually consumed before a meal, on its own or with light food. Opening the bottle is a part of the celebration, but should be done without any risk to the revelers.

Remove the foil, undo the wire cage without removing it, grasp the cork and the cage firmly with your hand, then turn the bottle itself by holding it at the base, the cork will come out of its own accord... The desired effect is to ease the cork out with a satisfying pop rather than to vulgarly shoot the cork across the room or produce a fountain of foamy wine.

The deliberate spraying of 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.


Wines from the Champagne region were already known in medieval times and before. Churches owned vineyards, and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Communion. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims. Champagne wine flowed in festivities.

Kings appreciated the wine, a still, light and crisp wine, and offered it as an homage to other monarchs in Europe. In the 17th century, wine of Champagne were the chosen wines for celebration in European countries. But it was not a sparkling wine. English people were the biggest consumers of Champagne wines, and drank a lot of sparkling wines.

The first commercial sparkling wine was produced in the Limoux area of France about 1535. They did not invent it, nobody knows who first made it, although the British make a reasonably good claim. A lot of people love to add sugar to their wine: the excess sugar produces further fermentation and results in sparkling wines.

Somewhere in the end of the 17th century, the sparkling method was imported in the Champagne region, associated with specific procedures for production (smooth pressing, dosage...), and stronger bottles (invented in England) that could hold the added pressure. In about 1700, sparkling champagne was born.

English people have loved the new sparkling wine, and spread it all other the world. Brut champagne, the modern champagne, was created for the British in 1876. The Russian royalty also consumed huge quantities.

See also: Wikipedia Cocktail Guide

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