Champagne has been placed on the pedestal because it’s usually reserved for special occasions. While there’s merit to such special treatment, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy them whenever and wherever you want! Yes, of course, you should take champagne seriously but its enjoyment lies more in the appreciation of its history.
Here are a few interesting factoids about champagne that may or may not burst your bubble.
Bubbles Were Considered as Defects
Champagne wasn’t the sparkling wine with bubbles – or as the French call it, non mousseux – when King Louis XIV drank it like water. Indeed, where bubbles in champagne are sought after today, these were considered as defects then!
The regions of Champagne and Burgundy, which are then and now known as the premier wine regions in France, were at odds even then, particularly in claiming the title as the premier region for still red wines in the country. But the competition slightly changed when Champagne began producing white wine with fizz – that’s bubbles for the uninitiated – in the mid-17th century.
But the innovation wasn’t without its issues in the competitive world of winemaking. In the succeeding years after champagne was developed, winemakers became engaged in a fierce territory dispute over who can use the term.
The French national government eventually stepped in and passed a law designating exclusive rights to use Champagne – yes, that’s with a capital letter – in their wines. According to the law, the five wine-producing districts that have exclusive rights are Aube, Montagne de Reims, Côte de Sézanne, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de la Marne.
The fact that only these five districts are allowed to produce the champagne we know today contributes to its expensive prices and elite status. The highly restrictive rules and regulations surrounding its production means that its highly sought after, too, a proof of the law of supply and demand.
Bubbles Aren’t Created Equal
For many producers, the ideal bubbles are fine, delicate and tingly so these don’t impose on the tongue, a kind of melt-in-your-mouth quality. But there are producers who want bubbles to just disappear because, in their words, the expansive mousse can be nasty.
But here’s the thing about bubbles in champagne: These are like little experiments that can go awry or awesome. The best champagne producers, fortunately, have perfected the technique so their bottles always deliver on the finest bubbles.
This begs the question, nonetheless: How do bubbles form in champagne? Sparkling wines start their lives in stillness, so to speak, with their bubbles waiting to emerge. But bubbles become weaker as the wine ages, not to mention that these are influenced by the climate and geography.
The northern Champagne region is an excellent place for creating bubbles. The cold weather encourages the wine to stop its fermentation process but when warmer weather comes, the fermentation process starts again. Think of it as winter putting the still wines into hibernation and spring bribing the effervescence that characterizes champagne.
With changing times, however, champagne producers don’t just rely on the vagaries of weather for the stop-start phases of the fermentation process. Instead, they usually add wine mixed with yeast and sugar, or liqueur de tirage, to facilitate the second fermentation.
Order different bottles of champagne from upscale restaurants like French Laundry and you will observe there are differences in their bubbles. The effervescence may have a lighter quality akin to the silky waves of the ocean at low tide or may have a sharper trait like cracking candy on your tongue.
But lest you think that the bubbles are about the size, think again. There are actually neither small nor large bubbles, just differences in the amount of sugar in the wine and the atmospheric pressure in the bottle.
Generally speaking, semi-sparklers like Prosecco usually have less atmospheric pressure so these sparkling wines have a softer mousse and less effervescence resulting in the feeling of larger bubbles. Champagne usually have higher sugar content so the wine tends to have softer bubbles and a heavier feel, too.
Did you know that you can also get still wines from the Champagne region? Yes, you can and these are known as Coteaux Champenois. If you find yourself in a winemaker’s cellar, you will likely be offered a sip of the still wine used in making Champagne. The still wines are the base wines, the ones before the fermentation process has started.
But you may well be disappointed by their taste – think of the leftover wines from New Year’s Eve and many base wines for sparkling wines are the same. But there are also great still red wines of Champagne that many upscale restaurants offer their guests, usually as an alternative to the sparkling wines. Not everybody, after all, likes bubbly wines.
But if you’re into bubbly wines, you should seriously consider indulging in true-blue Champagne, not the cheap imitations in liquor stores and bars. You will agree that it’s well worth the extra dollars paid for it and you may even agree that, indeed, Champagne deserves its place on the pedestal of wines.