Prepping to ring in the New Year, I started to write a blog to share secrets about sparkling wine…and then I found this article on www.food52.com that was loaded with interested tidbits about champagne…some really interesting factoids that I did not know.
So, grab a flute glass…err a wine glass (read more below), pop a cork & be ready to have some of the mysteries behind the bubbles unravelled with this article I found on www.food52.com . I`ve selected the ones that Wowed me the most. Click to read the full Top 10 Things you probably didn`t know about Champange.
Thanks to the folks at food52.com for sharing these need facts with us…they`ll be great conversation starters as the clock strikes midnight….I`ll raise a glass to that!
Happy New Year
1. Champagne made in the 1800s doesn’t taste anything like today’s Champagne.
Way back in 1668, when a Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon was working at his goal to create the best wine in the world, what he was creating was nothing like the dry, brut Champagne we know and love today. Through the better part of the nineteenth century, Champagne was incredibly sweet, almost syrupy. But when Madame Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot began exporting her Champagne to England, she discovered that the English preferred dry Champagne, so she began making two Champagnes: her original sweet Champagne, indicated by its white label, and a dry version with the yellow Veuve Clicquot label we know and drink today, which was categorized as goût anglais or “English taste.”
As a side note, goût russe or “Russian taste” was used to classify the sweetest Champagne, which was about six times sweeter than our sweetest Champagne today. (Russia was a huge driver of the Champagne industry—Cristal is so-named because it was actually served in leaded crystal glass bottles to Russian tsars.)
There is still a range in the sweetness of Champagne (which comes largely from the grape juice added during its second fermentation), but as a whole, it’s much drier than its predecessors. It’s measured by dosage, or grams of sugar per liter of Champagne, from extra-brut at zero dosage, which is currently trendy, to demi-sec and doux with up to 50 dosage.
Note from Debbie: I highly recommend to read the book (while sipping on bubbly): The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman who Ruled it. Hands down one of my favorites.
2. Champagne would be murky and yeasty if a brave woman hadn’t invented a way to get the yeast out.
When Madame Clicquot took over her husband’s Champagne house after his death (hence the name Veuve, or “widow”) Clicquot, she became the first woman to take charge of one—but to say she rose to the occasion would be an understatement. One of her great contributions to the Champagne world was to invent a riddling rack.
After Champagne is fermented once in barrels, it’s bottled and yeast is added for its second fermentation. The yeast eats the sugar, which causes Champagne’s famous effervescence, but a lot of dead yeast are left behind at the bottom of the bottle. Clicquot’s solution was to create a rack that puts the bottles at an angle, cork-side down, so that the yeast falls into the neck of the bottle in roughly two weeks and becomes a compact and easily-removable puck of yeast. Today, many houses do this process with machinery called a gyropallette, but Clicquot’s method lasted for hundreds of years and is responsible for Champagne’s clarity.
3. Champagne flutes and coupes are all about decoration—to really taste it and get the most out of it, it should be drunk out of a wine glass.
While flutes and coupes are a beautiful way to present Champagne, they aren’t practical. Many of our tasting senses are connected to smell, yet these traditional glasses prevent us from getting our noses into the glasses to get a whiff. A Champagne maker once explained it is as “going to see the orchestra with earplugs.”
4. When buying expensive Champagne, you should ask if you can have a bottle from the restocking room.
When buying Champagne, especially those in a clear glass bottles (like Ruinart), you should ask if you can buy one from the store’s back room rather than from the shelf, as Champagne starts to degrade in quality when it’s exposed to light (hence, Champagne caves) so buying it straight out of its shipping box will ensure a higher quality.
6. You shouldn’t store Champagne in the refrigerator.
…When Champagnes are kept in the refrigerator, the cork dries out and shrinks so that the carbonation is able to escape, and other smells and flavors can get in. And Champagne (and all wine) should always be stored on its side to keep the cork damp and ensure a tight seal.
7. The best Champagnes come from warm and dry harvests.
The particularly warm and extremely dry summer we just had may not be a happy indicator of Mother Earth’s condition—but it’s good news for Champagne. To put it simply, heat equals ripeness, which equals sugar, and dryness means grapes won’t be water-logged by too much rain, and will be more concentrated in flavor. During these good years, Champagne houses will often release special vintages, after aging them for 7 to 10 years, so the 2006 Moët was just released. Keep your eye out for the 2015 ten years from now—rumor has it, it’ll be worth the wait.
9. Champagne wouldn’t exist without clay.
One of the elements that makes Champagne such a unique growing region—200 days of rain aside—is the clay in the soil and deep under the earth. It leads to some of the best growing conditions and also aging conditions. The reason so many aging caves are underground (Krug’s is actually in a warehouse) is because clay creates the perfect conditions for Champagne to rest: It maintains the perfect level of moisture, absorbs shock so the bottles don’t get shaken, and stays cool.
Interestingly enough, the bottom of the ocean has some of the same qualities of clay: Earlier this year, 170-year-old Veuve Clicquot was recovered from the Baltic Sea, and its flavor (age aside) was largely uncontaminated—the cool, dark, and very moist conditions of the sea kept it in good care.
10. Many of the largest Champagne houses—and most of those mentioned in this article —are all owned by the same company.
Champagne has long been an industry with many internal ties between companies: Madame Clicquot was the great-granddaughter of Nicolas Ruinart, and there are relationships between houses and growers that have existed since the 1700s. Today, some of the best brands included Dom Perignon, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug are all owned by the mega-brand, LVMH.
This posting is an excerpt of the full blog written by Leslie Stevens – a contributor on www.food52.com. The photos inserted here are all taken by Debbie Trenholm of Savvy Company. The entire blog can be found on http://food52.com/blog/14783-10-things-you-probably-didn-t-know-about-champagne