Champagne - Fun Five
1. Champagne can only be called Champagne if it is produced in this region in France. However, the exact style of champagne is produced all over the world. Made primarily from a mixture of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes, the wine is produced in the ‘Methode Champenoise’ a term which can only be used if it’s made in this region. If you see a bottle that states ‘Methode Traditionelle’ you know it’s been made in the traditional method of champagne. The method involves fermenting the wine twice, the first to make the wine and the second ‘in bottle’ to create the bubbles. The second fermentation occurs in bottle under high pressure so that the carbonate byproducts from fermentation remain in the wine. The term kept ‘on lees’ describes aging the wine in bottle with the ‘lees’ (yeast used in fermentation) which gives the finished wine all those complex notes of bread dough, brioche and toast. Once the wine is ready, the bottles are inverted and dry ice is used to freeze the lees. They are then extracted and the wine is quickly resealed to keep the bubbles in.
The more you drink different well-made sparkling wines the more you’ll begin to recognise what you personally love in a sparkling and what to look out for in a label.
Side note- Prosecco is different to Champagne as it’s made in the ‘tank method’, producing a variation in sparkling which has a different flavour profile.
2. Pinot Noir grapes are actually a black grape variety, and the reason that sparkling is white and not red is because the juice is extracted form the grapes. It receives no time on skins to extract the colour that you would see in Pinot Noir wine.
3. Chardonnay is, I have heard(), a relatively tolerant grapevine variety hence it is grown the world over and producers can made fabulous ‘Champagne’ everywhere. Pinot Noir, however, is a thin skinned variety that needs a nice cool finish to produce good grapes. This is why you’re likely to see Pinot Noir sparkling made in cooler wine regions. In WA you’ll see them from Pemberton, Denmark and Karrihdale. Some producers buy parcels of grapes from these regions or hold pockets of land there to grow pinot noir, specifically to be able to blend the variety in with their sparkling.
4. You’ll see a number of other terms on bottles of traditional sparkling like cuvée, Brut and Blanc de Blanc. Brut simply means dry, bland de Blanc means white on white and cuvée is a term to describe a blend of grapes.
5. Champagne flavours are typically a mixture of some of the following, apple, pear, citrus, cream, bread, dough, toast and honey. When I’m pairing a good sparkling I always think about the texture of the wine or it’s mouthfeel. It’s acidic and with plenty of bubbles so it has a refreshing, drying effect in the mouth leaving your palate salivating for food. It’s one of the reasons that Champagne is such a fabulous way to start a meal.
When pairing with food, think not too spicy, sweet, sour or salty (just generally not too overpowering in flavour).
Here are some of my go-to pairings:
-Italian Antipasti of salumi, bocconcini and roasted vegetables.
-Brie cheese and mushrooms.
-Crunchy bites such as batter fish or chicken, potato croquettes or arancini.
-Eggs – poached eggs or a good home-made egg-based aioli.
-Anything that involves toasted bread. The crunch and texture contrasts with the bubbles and the flavours mirror those in the wine.