Bubbly Tales

Cork of a Champagne

BUBBLY TALES

“ No government could survive without champagne. Champagne in the throats of  diplomatic people is like oil in the wheels of an engine!”

Champagne is probably one of the most well-known of all wines. It is the epitome of romance. The spirit of celebration. The harbinger of all things wonderful. It has enthralled humankind over the years, especially the rich and famous who imbibed the elegant bubbly in copious quantities. Many a young maiden was subtly seduced with this mystical aphrodisiac, her inhibitions sent flying out with the winds.

The creation of champagne (sham-pain) is generally credited to `Dom Perignon’ (pay-ree-nyon), the cellar-master at the Abbey of Hautvillers at the end of the 17th century though some historians believe that it was actually the British who accidentally stumbled upon the recipe. On bottling the barrels of wine shipped to them from Champagne, they found that some of the wine underwent a secondary fermentation in the bottle, probably due to some leftover yeast and sugars that found some warmth in the English cellars. But it most certainly was Perignon who honed this discovery to a fine art. It was he who introduced the art of blending different wines from the various areas of Champagne, to create a `cuvee’ (pronounced cue-vay), which helped the wine to harness the best of each grape quality and presenting a unique style of wine. It was he who thought of putting an additional bit of yeast and sugar into the bottled wine to ensure a livelier wine. And after losing a lot of it to burst bottles, Dom Perignon invented the `muzzled cork’ to keep the bubbles in.

Thus was born the mother of all wines, the queen bee. And yes, only the wines made by `methode champenoise’ from the `Champagne’ region can be called champagne. The rest are simply `champagne type’ wines. For those of you interested in grape variety, champagne is mostly made from a blend of three main grapes: the Pinot Noir  – which provides the structure and body to the wine; Pinot Meunier – which gives it fruitiness and soft, mellow notes; and Chardonnay – which pitches in by adding elegance and finesse to the wine. The proportion of the grapes is secret to individual houses and that in turn establishes the unique flavour of each champagne brand. Apart from using these different wines for a `cuvee’, ensuring consistency of flavour for a specific brand calls for a blend of `reserve’ wines form different `years’ that are added to the blend. Experts taste the blend to make sure it conforms to pre-set standards before it is laid to rest deep in the cellars underground to mature and develop before it is put on the market.

Sometimes the vineyards are blessed by an exceptional harvest and the winemaker decides that the champagne will be made entirely from that year’s grapes. It is then known as `vintage champagne’. The style is unique to that year, is always more expensive than the regular champagne, and the vintage year is printed on the lable to distinguish it from any other champagne.

Just as most champagnes are blends of black and white grapes, some are made `blanc de blancs’ – purely from white grapes or `blanc de noirs’ – from dark grapes but without their colour. Also available is `pink’ champagne – used to be made by the addition of a very delicate red wine of the Champagne region known as `Bouzy Rouge’. Today, as long as the red wine is made from estate grown grapes, often Pinot Noir, it may be added to make rosé champagne.

Champagne comes in various degrees of sweetness from the bone dry `Brut’ to the lusciously sweet `doux’ champagnes. In between there’s `Extra Sec’ or dry, `Sec’ or faintly sweet and `Demi-sec’ or sweet. It is the dry variety that is rather popular. It is widely drunk as an aperitif, often to the echo of toasts and applause. Two very contradictory flavours that are all-time favourites are `champagne and caviar’ and `champagne with fresh strawberries’.

My two favourite champagnes, in most part because of the people who were associated with them, Veuve Cliquot in all its variety and Moet et Chandon with Dom Perignon at the head are finally fairly easy to access.  However, the one that completely bowled me over was Billecart Salmon 1990 gifted by my favourite uncle and aunt, Geeta and Ash Pandya from Oxford. Find it!

 

G.H.Mumm, Krug, Charles Heidsieck, Piper-Heidsieck, Lanson, Mercier, Bollinger, Taittinger, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouet and Louis Roederer are some of the other big names in champagne.

OTHER SPARKLING WINES

Though champagne is widely regarded as the bigwig, extremely good sparkling wines are made in many areas of France as indeed in other parts of the world. Of course, they cannot be called champagne. Nevertheless, they are deserving of some merit and, can on occasion, be quite outstanding. They are known as `vin mousseaux’ when made by the `methode champenoise’; the others being vin `cremant’ or softly sparkling and vin `petillant’ with just a hint of sparkle. In France, both Bordeaux and Burgundy regions make sparkling wines as do parts of the Loire and Rhone valley.

The Germans make their own version of sparkling wine known as `Sekt’ which tends to be low in alcohol and very refreshing, Henkell Trocken and Blue Nun being popular examples. The Italians have `Spumante’ of which `Asti’ is the best known. The other is the `Moscato Spumante’. Both tend to be rather sweet and are fun drinks. Prossecco comes in both ‘dolce’ (sweet) & brut (dry) versions. The Spanish too have a big sparkling wine industry in `Vilafranca’, Codornieu and Freixenet being popular brands. The `Vinho verde’ of Portugal are young and faintly fizzy wines of which the Mateus Rosé is a well-known example. Even the Russians make `Shampanskoe’ and drink it, sometimes (wishful thinking?!) in preference to vodka! But indubitably the best non-champagne sparkling wines are made in the United States and Australia with our own `Marquise de Pompadour’, ‘Sula Brut’, ‘Sula Secco’, ‘Ivy Brut’ and `Joie’ not far behind.

Sante!

Recipes excerpted from The Can’t Go Wrong Book Of Cocktails – Shatbhi Basu

 

ARCHER’S BELLE

GLASS:  champagne flute

INGREDIENTS:

15 ml Archer’s Peach Schnapps

chilled champagne to top

fresh peach/ dried apricot

GARNISH:  peach/apricot

TO MAKE:  Place the fresh peach or the dried apricot in the glass. Add the peach schnapps and top with champagne. Pour over ice cubes in summer.

 

MIMOSA

GLASS:  champagne flute

INGREDIENTS:

15 ml Cointreau/Grand Marnier/triple sec

1/3 glass cold orange juice

chilled champagne to top

GARNISH:  green orange peel/cherry

TO MAKE:  Start with the orange juice, add in the orange liqueur and top with chilled champagne. Drop the cherry in & peel on top.