"And we meet, with champagne and a chicken, at last." Lady Montagu, The Lover
Summer may seen like an odd time to write about Champagne, but if you enjoy a chilled glass of white wine on a hot summer day, then why not make that a glass of Champagne?
The question is, of course, rhetorical, because it doesn't have to be summer; any day is a good day for Champagne.
Champagne, cool and sparkling in the glass, as a summer refresher (with or without a chicken), occurred to me one especially hot day during the recent heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest with a ferocity not seen around here for decades.
|"Soviet, er, I mean, Russian shampanskoye is the best!" |
A dry dusty feeling in my throat nagged me as I read a wine news item about Russia pulling a fast one on French Champagne producers. It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a guy who enjoys poking people in the eye, signed a new law that "shampanskoye," the direct translation of Champagne, will now be reserved only for bubbly made in Russia.
The Latin lettering of Champagne may still appear on the front label, but the back label must say "sparkling wine."
And there's the rub, at least as far as the French Champagne Comite is concerned. For years, Champagne makers have been saying that Champagne is THE "sparkling wine," so why repeat it.
In situations like this, I'm remembering something comedian Joan Rivers was noted for asking: "Can we talk?"
It's not so much that the French are touchy about protecting a specific wine name; they are, after all, concerned about the use of an important wine name, while waging a battle for decades with folks trying to sell their own bubbly by using the name Champagne. After all, Napa winemakers would get testy if a cheeky European vintner decided to label their Cabernet Sauvignon "Napa Valley.
Anyway, it's not likely that you'll find a bottle of shampanskoye at your favorite wine shop, so let's talk Champagne.
Located a short distance from Paris. Champagne is a region with a lot of history. But the region, laboring under the law that defines what is Champagne, Significantly, has run out of land suitable for vineyards within the present appellation.
There has been talk for years about the effects of climate change on the vineyards of Champagne, but for now, only three grapes are authorized: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each of the varieties account for about one-third of the total plantings, with the edge to Pinot Noir, at approximately 38% of the total. Tiny amounts of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris still hold favor with one or two houses.
Depending on the Champagne house, the standard blend is 60/40 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although some houses add a little Meunier. Following a standard first fermentation, the new wine is put into a bottle where it will remain through the crucial second fermentation, then given a dosage (sugar addition) and finally the package is finished with a mushroom cork and foil hood.
There are six basic styles of Champagne, many of which can be found in wine shops. Most are made in the brut style, or 0 to 1.5% residual sweetness.
Non-Vintage -- The most widely available style and generally the least expensive. NV is a blend of years based on the current harvest and is considered classic Champagne.
Vintage -- Must be 100% from the year shown on the label. Generally, a vintage wine is from a good year. Blend of grapes is similar to Non-Vintage.
Blanc de Blancs -- A "white of whites" wine made entirely from Chardonnay, that is considered to be one of the best Champagnes for aging.
Blanc de Noirs -- A white wine produced from black grapes: "white of blacks." Made from either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two in a light red color.
Rose Champagne -- Made by blending a little red wine, mainly Pinot Noir. There are a few houses that macerate on the skins, as in making red wine.
Prestige Cuvee -- These are the most expensive cuvees (best juice from the press) produced by a Champagne house, usually made from the best grapes and aged longer. Think Roederer Cristal and Moet Dom Perignon.
Additionally, there is Brut Nature, a bone dry wine; Extra-Brut, with no dosage, such as "Brut Sauvage" and "Ultra Brut;" and Demi-Sec and Doux, sweet Champagnes that can get up to 5% RS or more.
For decades, Champagne producers have been trying to persuade the wine buying public that Champagne is an anytime wine, not just for special occasions.
To that, I say a votre sante!
Next blog: Cabernet Franc
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