December 2008

Champagne for the Holidays

Author: krissy cantelupe

December is here and this means Christmas, New Years Eve, and all the other fun stuff in between. This calls for Champagne! Last year, we chose some delicious sparkling wine selections for your holiday celebrations. This year, let’s look at the history of this fabulous wine.

When shopping for Champagne, remember this: “All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.” This means that wines labeled as “Champagne” must come from the Champagne region in France. If you have a bottle from California, it is a sparkling wine, not a true Champagne. The region of Champagne is located around the city of Reims as well as the towns of Epernay and Ay, with 32,000 acres planted with vines. The only grape varietals permitted to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Champagne was used as a “celebration” wine as early as the 10th century. The light, crisp wines made in the region were still, not sparkling, and were used in the coronation ceremonies of French kings. These French kings were more than happy to share with other European monarchs, especially the English, but it wasn’t until the late 1600s that true Champagne was born.

The Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, has been credited for years as the inventor of Champagne. In actuality, an Englishman named Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to wine to produce a secondary fermentation 40 years before Pérignon would have done so. But, Pérignon did aid with major advances in Champagne production, including using the wire cage and cork to keep the fermentation in the bottle without the wine exploding. He was also one of the first people to blend grapes from different vineyards to produce the wine.

In the 19th century, Madame Veuve Cliquot developed the riddling rack—the rack that holds the bottles at an angle so the lees (or sediment) can be removed from the wine. Madame Louis Pommery is credited with developing the dry style of Champagne we know today.

There are many different types of Champagne, but remember that great Champagne comes from Champagne. Toast the holidays or drink it every day. Try it with pizza!

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