Category Archives: Champagne

Champagne is both a region and a method. The wines come from the northernmost vineyards in France and the name conjures an image like no other can. An 18th Century Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon is said to be the first to blend both varietals and vintages, making good wines not only great, but also special and unique to their winemaker. Today, nearly 75% of Champagne produced is non-vintage and made up by a blend of several years’ harvests.

All Champagnes must be made by a strictly controlled process called “Méthode Champenoise.” The grapes are pressed and fermented for the first time. The blending phase follows and the wine is bottled and temporarily capped. Then comes the second fermentation, a blend of sugar and yeast is added and, this time, the carbon dioxide is kept inside the bottle. This process leaves a great deal of sediment that is extracted through a process of “racking” or “riddling.” The bottles are progressively turned upside down until all the sediment is collected in the neck. The necks are then frozen and the sediment is “disgorged.” After this phase, the winemaker may decide to add sugar to sweeten the wine. Finally the wine is corked. Some wines move through this process in a couple of months, while others are aged after the riddling phase to build greater complexity and depth.

Champagnes range from dry, “Brut,” to slightly sweet, “Demi-Sec.” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are used in Champagne blends, but “Blancs de Noirs” is made entirely of Pinot Noir and “Blancs de Blanc” is made from only Chardonnay grapes. The high acidity achieved by the northern location is crucial to the balance and structure of these wines.

Not every year is a “vintage” declared. In years when it is not, the wines are blended with the produce from other years to create the non-vintage blend, the house style that remains constant from year to year. But in a great vintage year, champagne houses will bottle by itself the unblended year’s produce, and use other portions as “reserve” wines to supplement and enrich the non-vintage blend. A vintage champagne can age quite gracefully, and gain complexity just like any other great still wine.

Mild cheeses like gruyere and shellfish pair nicely with Champagne. Also, oysters and Champagne is a popular combination. A full-flavored vintage Champagne can go with almost any meal.

Top 5 Champagnes for Bastille Day!

It’s Bastille Day! La Fête nationale, The National Celebration, The French Revolution!

I can’t help but think of Champagne on a day like this, and what better way to celebrate than pop a bottle of bubbles and yell “Vive La France!”

Here are my top 5 Champagnes that could have been used to celebrate the revolution!

Continue reading Top 5 Champagnes for Bastille Day!

Champagne 101

’tis the season… for Champagne of course!

Champagne reigns as the gift-of-choice during the holidays, and for good reason.

True Champagne, the real stuff from the actual region of Champagne; there is nothing like it. Just drinking it ignites all of your senses. It reflects joy, celebrations and happy gatherings of friends and family.

Should you choose to stock up on Champagne this season (and I hope you do) think of this as your cheat sheet on buying the ideal bottle, whether it is for you or for a gift.

The facts about Champagne & tips on how to read the label

The grapes
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two.
On the label you may see the following:
Blanc de Blancs – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – this is a great apperatif or with seafood. A great producer is Salon
Blanc de Noirs – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods.
Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink.

Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Remember, Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2011 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2010 or 2009 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase.

Some years the vintage is so delightful that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 2004 vintage about the same time Krug released their 2000.

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best blend of the house. Some good examples include Krug’s Grand Cuvee, Bollinger’s Grand Annee and Charles Heidsieck’s Champagne Charlie
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.

Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with more dosage
Sec – Still very dry, but with a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.

And now, our favorites!

Under $40
Ayala Brut 
Pommery Brut Royal

Under $70
Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee
Louis Roederer Brut Premier
Gosset Grande Reserve

Under $100 
Beau Joie Champagne Brut
Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut

And of course, my all time favorite…
Champagne Krug Cuvee

Cheers!

Savoring Champagne

PicMonkey Collage

In the 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, a smiling Captain Georg von Trapp tells his 16 year-old daughter Liesl, “No,” when she sheepishly asks him “I’d like to stay and have my first taste of Champagne.” I was barely a teenager when I saw the blue-eyed Liesl posing this question to her father, but this scene has always stayed with me. This was about the first time I had my first sip of Champagne as I stole a glass that my parents had poured. All I can remember is they smiled and toasted a lot when they drank it. What is it about Champagne? Its magic and allure, what does it mean to different people? Whether it merely tickles your nose or tantalizes the palate, everyone has a slightly different spin on one of the most iconic beverages in the world. Continue reading Savoring Champagne

Women in Wine: Madame Veuve Clicquot

A Champagne that adorns tables at weddings and other celebrations worldwide, Veuve Clicquot is now universally known, all because of a tenacious, young widow who took her husband’s company global.

Veuve_clicquotBarbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Clicquot in 1798. Francois was part of the family business with his father, who, among other things, ran a Champagne house. When Francois died just 7 years later, he left his young, 27-year-old widow (veuve, in French) in charge of the company. Taking up the reigns and renaming the house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Madame Clicquot proved herself a shrewd businesswoman. During the reign of Napoleon and through the Napoleonic wars, Clicquot established her Champagne brand throughout Europe, including the courts of Imperial Russia.

Continue reading Women in Wine: Madame Veuve Clicquot

Buying Champagne 101

One of the questions I hear most often is “what is a good Champagne for ____ price range that I can get for my boss/friend’s engagement/sister’s housewarming/parent’s anniversary/other celebration?” Champagne reigns as the gift-of-choice on so many occasions, and for good reason.

True Champagne, the real stuff from the actual region of Champagne; there is nothing like it. Just drinking it ignites all of your senses. The sigh of the cork, the shape of the flute in your hand, the foam rising dangerously fast to the edge as the wine pours into your glass. The steady twirling dance of the bubbles as they push themselves from the liquid to the air. The feel of those bubbles bursting in your mouth when you capture them in your first sip. And the wonderful taste of a wine that is full and rich and refreshing all at once. Okay, I’m thirsty now.

Think of this as your cheat sheet on buying Champagne – and other sparkling wine – whether it is for you or for a gift.

Continue reading Buying Champagne 101