Raise Your Glass to the Stars in France


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champagne corkFrance is located in Western Europe and borders Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east, Spain to the south-west and Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg to the north-east. The country is divided into seven cultural regions, such as Île-de-France (surrounding Paris), Northern France, North-eastern France (includes Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comté), Great West, Central France, South-western France and South-eastern France.
Legend has it that the monk, Dom Pérignon, was originally ordered by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles in the wine. The pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. Champagne dates back about 300 years and was developed in the Champagne region (north-eastern France), a three hour drive north-east of Paris.
Dom Pérignon was making wine and failed to complete the fermentation before bottling and corking the wine. During the cold winter months the fermentation remained dormant, but with the arrival of spring, the fermentation resumed producing carbon dioxide.
It is told that Dom noticed some of the bottles of wine exploded in the cellar, so he opened a bottle and poured the wine. His famous words were “Come quickly! I’m drinking stars.” The words still remain with many of us every time we open a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
Top Champagnes
There are more than 19,000 smaller vine-growing producers (vignerons) in Champagne and more than a hundred Champagne houses. Some of the top Champagnes include:
• Champagne Krug – Clos D’Ambonnay 1996 Champagne, France: Olivier Krug located in Mesnil-sur-Oger (a village near Reims in Champagne) makes an average of 450,000 bottles of Champagne a year. The Champagne produced by Krug is often described as the Rolls-Royce of the industry and some of its devotees include Ernest Hemingway, Naomi Campbell, the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, John le Carré and Sir Alec Guinness. The Clos Du Mesnil is “misty on the nose; soft citrus, vanilla strong, but not aggressive; precise, neat with impressions of a meringue.” A bottle of Clos D’Ambonnay 1996 is priced at approximately $2,250.
• Dom Pérignon – Rosé Oenotheque 1990 Champagne, France: This Champagne is available from $650 up to $1,000 per bottle. The 42% Pinot Noir and 58% Chardonnay produced Champagne, aged in the cellars for 20 years and disgorged in 2007, has a coppery pink color with yellow reflections and nose of developed aromas of spices and tobacco. On the palate a touch of humus, hints of spices, leather, light tobacco and a sensational fullness on the finish.
• Champagne Henriot Cuvée des Enchateleurs Reims, Champagne, France: The Henriot family settled in Champagne in the 16th century. In the early 1960s Joseph Henriot, son of Etienne Henriot, took over the family company. The Henriot Rose Brut is made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% of Chardonnay grapes. The Champagne offers a fruit nose that dominates the senses with citrus and floral scents. The palate enjoys a light, salivating fruitiness, with floral and hints of spice mixing well to create a long finish.
Other top Champagnes include: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut Vintage 1997 Reims, Champagne, France; Champagne Perrier-Jouët 1999 Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Cote de Blancs, Champagne, France; Champagne Pommery 1998 Cuvée Louise Brut Champagne, France; Champagne Taittinger 2003 Comtes de Champagne Rosé Reims, Champagne, France; Champagne Charles Heidsieck N.V. Rosé Réserve Champagne, France and Champagne Delamotte Rosé Brut Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France.
Champagne-making is Labor Intensive
Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne is produced.
• The Cuvee: Still wine is selected for the making of Champagne. Good quality wine made from grape varieties, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, is usually selected. Mixed cuvees are also used and the alcohol content is typically around ten percent. A still wine process involves natural sugars converted into alcohol.
• The Tirage (liqueur de triage): This process involves adding sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients. After the cuvee, sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients are mixed; the bottling and corking process begins. The bottles are typically made of thick walled glass. The tirage is stored in cool cellars and fermentation will slowly produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.
• Maturation: The yeast cells die and the fermentation process are usually complete within a couple of months. The Champagne is allowed to age from one to three years. More expensive Champagnes age for up to five years. The yeast cells add “yeasty” flavours to the champagne during the aging process.
• Riddling (remuage): After the aging process, the bottles are turned upside down at a seventy-five degree angle. The “riddler” turns each bottle 1/8 of a turn while it is upside down. The riddling process allows the dead yeast cells, sediment or lees to build up in the neck of the bottle.
• Disgorging or dégorgement: This process gets rid of the lees. After freezing the neck of the bottle, the cap is removed and the carbon dioxide forces the frozen part out.
• Dosage: The content is filled up with a measured amount of champagne and cane sugar, also referred to as liqueur d’expedition. The wine is shaken in order to help integrate the wine with the liqueur d’expedition. The new cork is wired down to secure the pressure of the carbon dioxide.
Enjoying Champagne at Breakfast
ChampagneIt was Noel Coward who said: “Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?” A sparkling wine or champagne breakfast is a great way to kick off a special day. You can enjoy a bottle of champagne or mix orange juice with the sparkling wine and enjoy it with strawberries. Stuffed Crepes, a veggie scramble with mushrooms, broccoli florets and bell peppers and a fruit salad with pineapple, mango, papaya and melon will go well with sparkling wine.
“Every time you open a bottle of champagne it is a celebration, so there is no better way of starting a celebration than opening a bottle of champagne. Every time you sip it, you are sipping from all those other celebrations. The joy accumulates over time.” – David Levithan.


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