Often people think that Champagne refers to any sparkling wine. In truth, Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France and be produced under very specific requirements.
Winemakers start with 3 grape varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Menuier. Depending on the style they want, they may choose only one of these varietals or a blend of two or three of them. Grapes are harvested early. That and the naturally cool climate help preserve acidity and freshness. The wines are fermented like any other, but then the magic starts.
These still wines with no bubbles are bottled and then topped off with a mixture of sugar and yeast before being capped. The wine ages for at least 15 months with the yeast slowly consuming the added sugar and converting it to additional alcohol and carbon dioxide. With the bottle capped, the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine and creates the bubbles for which Champagne is famous. This aging with the yeast in the bottle (i.e., aging on the “lees”) also gives Champagne its characteristic aromas of brioche, buttered whole-wheat toast, and fresh baked bread. Depending on the style, the wine may be aged on the lees for up to 10 years before being released.
Once a wine is ready to be released, the bottles are stored with the necks tilted down and turned slightly each day in order to move all the dead yeast down to the bottom of the neck. Once there, the neck is quickly frozen, the bottle cap removed along with the frozen dead yeast, a last dose of sugar is added, and the bottle is corked.
This last addition of sugar is called “dosage” and brings the wine to its desired sweetness. Wines with no added sugar are called “natural.” More common is a slight amount of added sugar which is called “brut.” Increasing the amount of sugar gives additional sweetness levels such as extra-dry, sec, demi-sec, and finally doux (sweet).
Due to its generally high acidity, Champagne pairs well with lots of different foods, especially anything fried or salty.
Food Pairing: Shellfish, fried foods, salty foods
Pronunciation: sham PAIN