For the passed exam, for the wedding day, on the occasion of an anniversary ... or simply "only" on two occasions: when you are happy or sad, as Lily Bollinger supposedly thought - drinking champagne is always something special. Makes every moment an extraordinary event. Makes the grey everyday life look rosy again quickly. So: Get the champagne goblets out of the showcase again!
But what actually makes champagne so extraordinary? What distinguishes it from sparkling wine or Prosecco? First and foremost, of course, its unmistakable taste and its special, fine bubbles. The noble drink gets both through its production, the "Méthode champenoise".
This unique production method is as strictly protected as the designation "Champagne". A sparkling wine may only bear this designation if it comes from the French region of Champagne in the northeast of France, i.e. if it was produced, processed and refined there. The proof of the trademark-protected status is given to each sales bottle by the AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) seal. The production area is limited - another reason for the exclusivity of this drink. Champagne vines grow on just 34,000 hectares.
Champagne may only contain certain grapes: white Chardonnay grapes and blue Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes (the latter are white pressed). The dark grapes make the bouquet full and full-bodied, the Chardonnay grape gives the champagne its tangy freshness. But that is where the similarities end - that each champagne has its own, unmistakable quality is the responsibility of the respective cellar master, who has an elementarily important task: the selection and correct blending of the grapes.
In our opinion, the masters of the following brands and varieties do this particularly well: Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer Cristal, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame and Cuvée William Deutz - our undisputed favorites!
But back to the production. In the beginning there is the vine: First the grapes are hand-picked in winter and carefully pressed. After the first pressing, the "cuvée" is obtained, a wonderful juice rich in sugar and acidity. In the second pressing one obtains the must, which is of slightly lower quality and is called "waist". Both types of must make up the base wine, which may consist of two thirds of the cuvée and one third of the waist.
The better the base wine, the better the characteristics that the finished champagne will eventually have. For a perfect balance, the ratio of acidity, residual sweetness and alcohol content must be just right. The art is to enrich the new base wine, mix it with other blue or white grapes from other vineyards and bring it into perfect balance. Sometimes base wines from older vintages are also added. This very important production step is called "blending" or also "assemblage". Not every cellar master has the experience, sensory abilities and expertise to create a great champagne with the assemblage. But we can certainly assume that the great champagne houses also employ the greatest artists in this field. These are capable of maintaining a very specific, individual character over vintages, which the respective producer claims for himself. The cellar masters are assisted in this process above all by the fact that they have a choice of very many different base wines of a vintage (horizontal blend), which the large houses can store. These may be added up to a maximum of 50 percent to the cuvées of different vintages (vertical blend).
After bottling of the new cuvée, which is only permitted from January 1 after the harvest, the so-called "Fülldosage" (also called "Tiragelikör" or French "liqueur de tirage") is added for secondary fermentation. This is a mixture of sugar, yeast and old wine. The yeast splits the sugar into alcohol and carbonic acid, so that the drink now begins to bubble. During the fermentation period, which can last up to eight weeks, the horizontally stored bottles are shaken in between; a strong pressure is created in the bottles.
But even with the secondary fermentation completed, the exclusive beverage that is stored as champagne in the cellars of the dealers is still a long way off. Now the wine must rest on the yeast for a long time in order to develop a rich, full taste. An excellent vintage champagne is often stored for up to ten years.
Before the bottle can finally be shipped, it is first shaken using a very special technique that the French call "Remuage". And that's still not all, because now the extremely important "disgorging" still follows. An explosive process: after freezing the bottle neck with the contents it encloses for a while, the bottle is put up, opened - and a dangerous plug of yeast and ice "shoots" out.
Now the contents of the bottle are ready to be filled with the dosage, i.e. the mixture of wine and sugar syrup. The nature of the dosage determines how dry the champagne becomes and how it tastes, i.e. whether it is sold as "brut de brut", "brut", "demi sec" or "sec". Now all that is missing is the cork and wiring and the labelling of the bottle. Et voilà - a votre santé!