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Champagne

Champagne

"Come quickly my brothers, I drink stars" cried the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon when he tasted champagne for the first time ! Timeless, a symbol of celebration, of seduction, of effervescence itself, champagne is a true medium, often confined to the spirit of the party or as Winston Churchill proclaimed " necessary in times of defeat and obligatory in times of victory " ...

A little history

It is often said that necessity is law. In his book, " L'éclair d'un bonheur ", the historian Jean-Pierre Devroey recalls that in 1692, it froze on July 22 in Champagne and snowed on October 9  that year, the grape harvest took place in mid-November ! We can therefore suppose that in these rather particular circumstances, the fermentations were often interrupted at the approach of winter and resumed the following spring  the wine, housed at this time in barrels, "reworked " and this resumption of fermentation was then translated by a release of carbonic gas. This phenomenon caused the French aristocrats to lose interest in these wines, but at the same time created the beginnings of effervescence! It was later around 1695 that producers in the Reims region would have pressure-resistant bottles and ad hoc corks.

The vineyards of Champagne are very heterogeneous today, with a vineyard of 34,300 ha, of which 10% belongs to the houses and 90% to the winegrowers. The subsoil composition is predominantly limestone, which favours soil drainage and highlights a certain minerality.

Assembly

This is the keystone of most champagnes. With the exception of vintage wines or cuvees made from clos or plot selections, champagne is first and foremost a blending wine. It is even its essence, one could say. Synergy could be the key word for blending: between the different crus, grape varieties, vintages and reserve wines (from previous years) to elaborate, by successive touches, the cuvée.

In all cases, the whole must be better than each of the parts taken in isolation, and, even, than the simple sum of its parts. Between the desire to perpetuate, for most of the major brands, a house style, immediately recognisable by the wine lover, and a more creative approach, the range is wide.

White from ... white or white from black

Seven grape varieties are currently allowed in Champagne. Three of them dominate: pinot noir (40%), pinot meunier (32%) and chardonnay (29%). Most champagnes are made from a blend of black and white grapes. When it is made only from red grapes (pinot noir and/or meunier), it is called blanc de noirs. In the opposite case, when it is made from chardonnay in most cases, it is called blanc de blancs. In fact, direct Champagne pressing, without juice/skin contact, makes it possible to obtain a clear juice from red grapes because the colour pigments (anthocyanins) are found in the grape skin.

BSA

Brut without a year. This is the opposite of a vintage champagne. The result of blending several vintages with a greater or lesser percentage of reserve wines, BSA accounts for 90% of champagne sales and is most often characterised by a standard style corresponding to the house taste.

Rosé Champagne

To make rosé, there are two ways  either by short maceration (24 to 72 hours) of the juice with the skins, or by blending still white and red wine. Macerated rosés generally offer more structure and substance than rosés made by blending. Rosés made by maceration are more complex and have more body than those made by blending.

Dosing

After disgorgement - the stage where the deposit resulting from the transformation of sugar into alcohol is expelled from the bottle - comes the time for dosage. This can be used as a cache-misère (filling in a weak raw material) but it can also be the cook's grain of salt, that small addition that allows the whole to gain depth.

European regulations thus determine the typologies of dosage :

Brut Nature: between 0 and 3g/litre

Extra-brut: between 3 and 6g/litre

Brut: between 6 and 12g/litre

Extra-dry: between 12 and 17g/litre

Dry: between 17 and 32g/litre

Demi-sec: between 32 and 50 g/litre

Doux: over 50g/litre

Service

The container plays here, as for other wines, a very important role. Cups are to be avoided. A high flute or even a tasting glass such as MasterGlass or Sydonios are perfectly suitable. Some champagnes can be decanted, especially if the date of disgorgement is recent (see the label). In this case, it is important that the temperature of the champagne and that of the decanter are identical.

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    Intemporel, symbole de célébration, de séduction, de l’effervescence-même, le champagne est un véritable médium, souvent cantonné à l’esprit de la fête ou, comme le proclamait Winston Churchill, « nécessaire en temps de défaite et obligatoire en temps de victoire » …
    Le champagne, c’est un vin mais aussi une région (en France même si la Suisse compte aussi une commune du même nom !) avec ses codes parfois compliqués à appréhender ; un champagne « Brut » signifie par exemple qu’il y a entre 0 et 3 gr de sucre ou de liqueur qui ont été ajoutés, ce sera donc comme la pointe de sel du cuisinier; une cuvée blanc de blancs sera issue de raisins blancs et s’il est inscrit blanc de noirs sur la bouteille, il s’agira d’un vin blanc produit avec des raisins rouges ou noirs. Souvent, les cuvées n’ont pas de millésime car on ajoute des vins « de réserve » qui permettent de créer chaque année une cuvée qui correspond au style maison. On parle alors de cuvées rondes ; c’est pour cette raison qu’on trouve chaque année des bouteilles par exemple de Louis Roederer, Chandon ou Ruinart. Et puis il y a les cuvées qui mettent en avant des terroirs, un millésime, un format (magnums ou plus grands) ou une édition spéciale – on a vu notamment la cuvée de Dom Pérignon et son étui rose en version Lady Gaga. Ces éditions limitées ont généralement un prix plus élevé.
    Au CAVE, nous plébiscitons les champagnes de vignerons, qui mettent en avant une unité de lieu et qui illustrent l’émerveillement qu’a connu Dom Pérignon lorsqu’il a dégusté du champagne pour la première fois : « Venez vite mes frères, je bois des étoiles » s’était-il paraît-il écrié.