A very old and dear friend of mine was visiting from the US recently and we met on the morning of 31st December. Knowing that I work in the wine business, her first question to me was, “Where can we buy some good champagne here, Sujata? In all the hustle bustle of our trip, we just realised it was 31st December!”
How many of you brought in the New Year by popping open a bottle of champagne? Known the world over as the wine to be served for any occasion to be celebrated, champagne traces its origins way back to the medieval times when it was not first a wine as we know it today. The earlier champagne wines were not even white in colour. The attempt of the Champenois (as people from Champagne are called) was to make good quality red wines like their neighbouring region Burgundy did. However, the weather conditions of their region were such that primary fermentation would halt due to the winter temperature only to restart in spring when temperatures rose again. This would lead to the resulting wine to have the bubbles trapped from this delayed or secondary fermentation.
What started as an accident was further improved by Dom Perignon, a monk in the Benedictine monastery in the Champagne region. Although he has been attributed with the invention of champagne, he is in fact, more responsible for the improvement in production processes of this wine which became associated as a symbol of luxury amidst the nobility and royalty.
So what is the big deal about the bubbles? Well, the big deal is that the bubbles appear in the bottles through secondary fermentation and not because the wine is carbonised. Which is to say that the bubbles are formed by the gas trapped in the bottle due to a second fermentation. This method of inducing a second fermentation in an already fermented wine is known as the Méthode Traditionnelle, and is today a mention that only sparkling wines produced in the delimited region of Champagne are allowed to carry on their labels. Also, only wines made in this delimited region can be called champagne the world over. So remember that all champagnes are sparkling wines but not all sparkling wines are champagnes.
These wines which range in taste from extremely dry to sweet or extra brut to doux are made from blending wines made from 2 black grape varieties – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and 1 white grape variety – Chardonnay. With the blending of these 3 different grape varieties, or with just a single grape variety, various types of champagnes are made. They are:
- Blanc de noirs (White coloured champagne made from black grape varieties)
- Blanc de blancs (white champagne made using Chardonnay)
- Champagne rosé (pink coloured champagne)
- Vintage champagne (champagne made using grape juice of one single vintage)
Mostly served as aperitif, champagne is enjoyed chilled and with foods such as foie gras, scallops and salmon and fresh fruits like strawberries.
Have we come close to finding a pairing with our diverse Indian cuisine? Well, why don’t you experiment and let us know?
Here’s wishing you a whole year of celebrations and popping several champagne corks!