Let’s celebrate the New Year …

400px-Pouring_two_champagne_glassesA 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.

Champagne_map

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!

Chin chin!

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Appellations in Bordeaux – What do they signify?

The French are great at creating systems in all they do… Whether it is food or drink or it is the bureaucracy… They love to put down everything in certain frameworks. Now, please don’t think that this is a criticism. It is merely an observation after interacting with the French for over 15 years and after having spent 2 years living in France.

Thus, how could the prized wines from their most prestigious vineyards of Bordeaux have been excluded from being classified?  Let us delve a little deeper into this. Before I go into the history of the classifications, let me tell you how the appellation system exists today.

The reason I took you through the geographical spread of the vineyards in my last post is because the appellation system and the classification systems are linked to the sub-regions.

Today, all wines produced in Bordeaux region follow the system of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. This system basically indicates the precise geographic areas in which certain types of wines can be produced. The wine production in Bordeaux follows the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system as below:

  • Bordeaux
  • BordeauxSupérieur
  • Bordeaux Clairet
  • Bordeaux Rosé
  • Crémant de Bordeaux (sparkling)
  • Cotes de Bordeaux (terroir on the east of the Garonne river)
  • Médoc and Graves (on the Left Bank of the Garonne)
  • Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac (located on the Right Bank of the Dordogne, close to the city of Libourne)
  • Dry white wines
  • Sweet white wines

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur constitute 50% of all wines produced in the region and are primarily red wine areas. The grape varieties that the law allows for making red wines in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

The Dry white wines, fresh and crisp, are made from blending Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and the sweet ones, elegant and smooth, are made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which are allowed to overripen.

This outlines the AOC system, or the appellation system based on delimited origins of the wines.

As early as 1855, during the rule of Napoleon III, the first classification system came into existence.  Known as the 1855 classification, various châteaux in the Médoc sub-region and some producing sweet wines in the Sauternes and Barsac areas were classified into the following categories:

  • 5 Premiers Crus (First Growth)
  • 15 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growth)
  • 14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growth)
  • 10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growth)
  • 18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growth)

The sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac were classified thus:

  • 1 Premier Cru Supérieur
  • 11 Premiers Crus
  • 15 Deuxièmes Crus

On similar lines, the sub-regions of Graves and Saint-Emilion also developed a classification of the wines produced by châteaux in their regions on the Cru Classé basis.

I do hope I have not confused you tremendously and have managed to navigate you through the appellation and classification systems in Bordeaux.  As mentioned above, this is a very high level overview of the systems.  Sometime in the future, I hope I can write in greater detail about the various appellations in existence and their specificities.

In the meanwhile, if you have any queries or feedback, feel free to share it and I will try to address your queries to my best possible.

Till then, Santé et bonheur! 🙂

Bordeaux and its sub-regions

As I started studying wines, I got very confused by the various classifications which exist in the European wine making regions.  Bordeaux was no exception to that!  In fact, larger the vineyard, more were the chances to get confused.  It took me a while to understand the differences in classifications and now that I have a understood them, I think they can be explained in easy terms to you, my interested readers.

First of all, let us understand the geographic spread of this vineyard.  This will in turn make it easy to understand the classifications or appellations in existence.  I will cover that in my next post, since the appellations in Bordeaux went through a few changes along the course of time.

As mentioned in my previous post, the vineyard of Bordeaux has developed along the banks of the two rivers, the Dordogne (Dor-do-nyeuh) and the Garonne (Ga-ron-ne), which flow into the estuary of the Gironde (Ji-ron-de) and the surrounding areas.  The area along the right bank of the Dordogne River is known as the Right Bank while the vicinity of the banks of the Garonne is called the Left Bank.  Besides these two areas, is also the land between the two tributaries of the Gironde, called Entre-Deux-Mers, which translates literally as “Between Two Seas”.

These 3 areas are further divided into smaller areas, and I am only mentioning here a few of those which are well known.

The Right Bank, divided further into the vineyards of Blaye, Cotes de Blaye, Castillon, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, has a predominant production of red wines, with some whites being produced as well.  The famous appellations here are Pomerol and Saint Emilion which have built themselves a reputation over several generations of wine making. Chateau Petrus from the Pomerol region and Ch. Ausone and Ch. Cheval Blanc from Saint Emilion are wines which are treasured by any wine lover the world over.  The red wines here are largely Merlot based, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  The whites, as mentioned in my previous post, are mostly dry whites, which are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

The Left Bank, further sub-divided into larger sub-areas of Medoc and Graves is an area which is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon as the main grape varietal in their blends.  The typical blend of reds here is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in with 15% respectively of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Medoc, downstream from the city of Bordeaux, produces very well known red wines, such as Margaux from Chateau Margaux, and a Pauillac wine produced by Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Graves, upstream from Bordeaux, produces a variety of wines, reds, sweet and dry whites, and covers the areas of Pessac Leognan, Sauternes which produces the famous dessert wine called by the same name, and Barsac, another area known for its sweet white wines.  Chateau d’Yquem is a world renowned producer of the Sauternes wine and Ch. Haut-Brion, a well known producer of the Pessac-Leognan appellation.

Entre Deux Mers, a very large area, produces more white wines in proportion to the Left and Right Bank vineyards, and has a relatively smaller production of red wines.  The well known appellations here are Loupiac (sweet whites) and Cadillac.

These are the main sub-regions of Bordeaux, and I bet my readers are going to need a little time to digest as many details.  That is the reason why I am going to detail out the classifications and appellations in the next post.  Till then as the French say, Santé et Bonheur! Health and Happiness to all !

Wine producing regions of the world

Bordeaux

Talk of wines and even those who are novices to wines will first think of France and its wines.  Mention French wines and most people around the world will know of wines from Bordeaux, even if they don’t know more details about these wines.

As we start the discovery of the various wine producing regions in the world, it is but natural to start with the most well known wine region in the world, the region of Bordeaux in France.

One of the oldest vineyards in France, winemaking traditions here are a result of the Roman conquests of France in ancient history.  Eventually Bordeaux wines gained acclaim in Britain, thanks to the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine (the region of Bordeaux) in the Middle Ages.  This further opened the access for the wines to the entire world.  Various sub-regions of this famous region gained and lessened in importance through the course of its history of winemaking.

In the late 19th century, the vineyard was affected by the Phylloxera epidemic, as were the rest of the vineyards in Europe.  However, the industry was resurrected thanks to the native vines being grafted onto the rootstock of the pest-resistant American vines.  The varietals which responded better to this grafting went on to become the leading grape varieties of Bordeaux region.  These world famous grape varieties are:

–          Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in reds

–          Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle in whites

The large geographic Bordeaux region is spread along the banks of the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers, which merge into the Gironde river to form an estuary leading into the Atlantic Ocean.  This spread of vineyards is thus known as the Right Bank and Left Bank vineyard sub-regions of Bordeaux.

As we go along this journey of discovery, we will explore the various sub-regions and their specificities of winemaking traditions.

Come join us and explore the magical world of wines!