A short train ride east of Paris brings the wine-savvy traveller to the world famous and much envied wine region of Champagne.
Along its country roads and deep under its major centres of Epernay and Reims, sit millions and millions of bottles of sparkling wine, slowly maturing in the cool chalky cellars deep underground. With some of these cellars dug by Roman invaders, these historic structures are not only beautiful but also vital in making Champagne one of the world’s finest wines.
Champagne is, of course, a sparkling wine, although still pinot noir can occasionally be found in the odd cellar. Traditionally made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meuniere grapes, Champagne is the sparkling wine on which others around the world are judged, many of which do their best to copy its style.
However, no region around the world can quite hit the heights of great Champagne. Its generally cool climate helps to retain the high acidity and elegance that are hallmarks of the style.
Another secret to Champagne is in its complex production, which was first developed in the region. Grapes are picked still with biting acidity before they are fermented twice – once in oak and stainless steel, then a secondary fermentation in bottle. It is here where the magic begins.
The tiny yeast cells that drive the ferment and the creation of bubbles die once they have done their job and are left in the bottle, adding untold complexity to the final wine.
Champagne is the French fizz of sophistication and fun
By law, 18 months is the minimum time allowed for maturation on these yeast lees, which is the time seen in the supermarket wines. However, the finest wines can sit on these decaying cells for decades, which adds brioche-like complexity as well as making a finer, creamier mousse.
And this is where the chalky cellars come in. With temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius, they provide the perfect environment for extended ageing, the low temperature ensuring that changes in flavour and texture happen at a snail’s pace, helping to retain delicacy of flavour.
The creamy mousse together with layers of complexity is what makes Champagne one of the finest wines in the world, and a must-have for any serious celebration.
Time to raise a glass “à votre santé” (to your health)!
When do you like to bring out a glass of bubbly?