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Champagne & Sparkling Wine

The term Champagne denotes a sparkling wine from the region of Champagne in the North of France and is made using the 'méthode Champenoise'.

When a wine ferments it produces carbon dioxide gas. The basic concept in producing any sparkling wine is to allow fermentation to occur once bottled and to trap the dissolved carbon dioxide inside. There are 3 ways of doing this to produce a sparkling wine.

The old way was simply to move fermenting wine into bottles to produce and capture the gas. However this risks quite a few explosions when bottles cannot hold the pressure and it also leaves sediment in the bottle giving the wine a cloudy appearance. The regions of Die, Limoux and Gaillac still use this old method. In contrast a totally modern way is to seal already fermented wine in special tanks where carbon dioxide is produced by a secondary fermentation following the addition of a liquid yeast and sugar mixture. This method is used to produce sparkling wines such as Italy's Prosecco and is known as the "Charmat method".

The third way, the Champagne method, although also used to produce quality sparkling wines in other parts of the world, involves letting the wine ferment in vats to produce a still wine then through the controlled addition of sugars and yeast to produce a second fermentation in the bottles. Champagne is usually made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes, the famous Champagne Blend, although the lesser-known Arban, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc grapes are sometimes used. The grapes are picked earlier than elsewhere and are pressed with great care so as to produce the clearest juice through as little contact as possible with the skins. The juice is then moved to vats for the first fermentation.

During the next stage the winemakers taste wines from different vintages, grape varieties and plots of land and try to blend a wine that is consistent with the character and quality of the houses’ previous vintages. When they are finally content with the blend, the wine is called a cuvée. Once the blending is done a mixture of sugar and yeast ("liqueur de tirage") is added during the bottling process and the bottles are stored laying down for a month gaining bubbles from the new fermentation.

The bottles are then aged for 15 months with the bottles tilted down in racks called "pupitres" in order to collect the new sediment in the top of the bottle. The bottles are moved around or "riddled" either by hand (a process known as "remuage" in French) or mechanically by means of modern gyro-palettes so as to speed up this process and remove the need for manual labour. Then the bottle neck and the collected sediment are frozen and the bottle opened, releasing an ice cube full of the sediment, in a process called disgorgement. Whilst open for a tiny amount of time, the winemaker adds more Champagne and sugar cane ("liqueur d'expedition"), the degree of which dictates the sweetness of the final product.

Champagne and the other sparkling wines are labelled brut-zero, extra-brut, brut, sec, demi-sec or doux depending on the sweetness of the wine. They are mostly drunk as aperitifs but do actually go well with various seafood dishes, soft cheeses and some fruity deserts. Best served at 8-10°C.

Although Champagnes are generally considered the best fizz in the world, English sparkling wines have recently performed astonishingly well at professional tasting events and look likely to make a big impression for themselves in the near future. Some excellent examples can be found on the wine lists of top Paris restaurants.

  1. Chassenay d'Arce, Cuvée Première Brut, Champagne

    Non-vintage Champagne made from 60% Pinot Noir for its power and finesse and 40% Chardonnay to add a mineral freshness. Gold lemon colour with beautifully fine mousse and a rich nose with spicy and floral notes with hints of honey and yellow fruits.

    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  2. Lilbert & Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV

    Lilbert & Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, NV

    Robert Parker's Wine Advocate described this Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Lilbert & Fils non-vintage Champagne as showing "gorgeous balance all the way through to the crisp well-articulated finish" and "flowing with the essence of white peaches, flowers, minerals and citrus".

    Colour Sparkling Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

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