Beyond Bubbles: The Essence of Champagne
No one would oppose that Champagnes are one of the most beautifully invented beverage in the world. In a glass of this finest beverage, 20 million bubbles give its lively and dynamic characters. The flow of bubbles also contributes to the distinct tastes and aromas to drinkers all over the world. Beyond bubbles, what makes Champagne so fascinating that worth every Wine Connoisseur to study?
The unique terroir
Expressing the place of the grapes grown comes to be important for most of the Champenois, while “Terroir” maybe overused by the wine marketers nowadays. No matter it is made by a grower or by house, a single-vineyard or a blended one from all sub-regions in Champagne, all Champagnes are made to express the uniqueness given by its soil, climate and micro-climate.
We can find totally different terroirs among the sub-regions. For instance, Côte des Blancs lies on chalk where best Chardonnay grows, Montagne de Reims has deep bed of chalk which suits Pinot Noir, the Marne Valley containing more marls, sand or clay where wine growers put in Pinot Meunier. Different villages are having its distinct terroir which builds Champagne its unique identity. Luckily, there are more single-vineyard Champagnes to be made today, it is an expressway to learn about the cru however not to underestimate that blended champagnes are also expressing the terroir in one. Simply explaining, it is like driving your car and looking into the vineyard or taking a helicopter appreciating the region in a whole – both worth appreciating.
It is mistakenly made in the past, Champagne goes through second fermentation in bottles. With the reaction by yeast, carbon dioxide is formed and dissolves into the wine. There are sparkling wines made by the same traditional method in the world, however Champagne mark its place with lees aging, which gives autolysis notes such as yeast, biscuit, toast, gingerbread and smokiness. It is said that these flavors contribute to the complexity of Champagne, and lees as a preservative, also makes Champagne a long-lived wine than most other bubbles in the world. There is no formula to be the best lees aging period and it is the Champagne makers’ decision for different wines. Legally, the minimum aging period is 18 months and for vintage champagne, that would be 30 months. Many Champagnes are aged longer than legal requirements and some of the finest are kept with lees for over 10 years. The best ones would maintain a balance between rich autolytic aromas and complex fruit flavors. They are usually lengthy and complex with spectacular aging potential.
“Champagne” is not an identical product. It is not only giving you bubbles. In the region you could find talented and experienced winemakers using their techniques to produce diversified styles of Champagne which could not be found elsewhere.
In fermentation, oak barrels benefit the complexity with oak, smoky and vanilla flavors. Lees aging period affects the autolysis flavors and the freshness of the finalized product.
In varieties, most of the Champagne is blended with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Noir adds the backbone and body; Pinot Meunier makes the roundness and produce fruitiness; Chardonnay contributes to the delicacy and minerality of wine. Blanc de Blanc is made with white grape varieties, mainly Chardonnay (Also, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane are permitted by law). Blanc de Noir is made with either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a blend of both.
Going into sweetness, dosage made with sugar will be added into the Champagne after disgorgement which produces different styles to the wine. Lesser dosage such as Brut Nature and Extra Brut gives sharp acidity and expresses the authentic grape flavors. Small amount of dosage such as Brut and Extra-Sec makes it more rounded and complete.
It is the common goal of 400 houses and 15,000 growers – Champagne is not merely a drink for celebration. Champagne is an endless journey to explore in grape varieties, vintages, dosage and ways of maturation. Not only is it a food-friendly wine, but as well a masterpiece that could improve for decades.
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