Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Timeless bubbles of Champagne

The decadent drink has grown across the world over the years to become more accessible as an everyday drink

Champagne is a decadent drink. It is one that evokes the ideals of ageless class. It can be from any era: the classy 1920s, the post-war generation of the 1960s or the exuberant 1980s. But champagne has grown across the world over the years and has become more accessible as an everyday drink through wider distribution and at price points that haven’t risen as fast as income levels globally.

It still maintains a mystique, but, along with wine, is probably the simplest to serve: chilled from the refrigerator and poured straight into a glass. It couldn’t be easier and when you add the halo that this sparkling wine has from both status and rewards perspective; it is almost the perfect drink.

But champagne is not a simple drink. Yes, it is a French wine, but with a twist. The origins of champagne are hidden deep in history and credited, as with most great drinks, to the scientists of their day—monks. One man in particular, Dom Perignon, is said to be the one who discovered the specific method of secondary fermentation that gives champagne its sparking nature.

In terms of grapes, champagne is nice and simple as it is made mainly from three grape varieties, two of them red and one white. The two reds (or blacks, as the French would describe them) are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, while the white grape variety is Chardonnay. That all champagnes are made from white grapes is as common a misconception as it is to think that the tomato is a vegetable.

The secret of how to use black grapes for a white liquid is simple to understand. When the grapes are pressed, the black skin is only partially broken, so the coloured pigments hidden inside the skin stay intact and not colour the clear juice. Only when you see blanc de blancs (white from white) written on the bottle, it means that the champagne is made from just white grapes.

Once the cellar master, or chef du cave, has decided on the grape styles and the percentage mix he feels will best reflect his house style, he gets to work making his still wine. Once the wine is ready, it is bottled into the traditional champagne bottles we know today, and a mixture of yeast and cane sugar is added to it. Topped with a metal crown cork, the type that you would normally see on a bottle of beer, the bottle is ready to sleep in the cellars of the champagne house for a minimum of 15 months.

In this time, the yeast starts to digest the sugar and it is that reaction produces two substances—carbon dioxide, which gives the wine its sparkling nature, and alcohol. The amount of yeast and sugar is kept in such proportion that each bottle of champagne will be between 12% and 12.5% alcohol by volume (abv).

Once the bottles of champagne are ready, the yeast sediment is removed through a freezing technique, a small amount of still wine is added to make up for the loss while removing the sediment, a cork is added and the bottle is ready to be labelled and sold.

Traditional Flavours

Champagne will vary in flavour, but the basics of fresh apple, vanilla and some leather notes will be evident in a well-constructed bottle.

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