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Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation. It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France, from which it takes its name. Through international treaty, national law or quality-control/consumer protection related local regulations; most countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the Champagne appellation.
Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power. The leading manufacturers devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine, associating it and themselves with nobility and royalty. Through advertising and packaging they sought to associate Champagne with high luxury, festivities and rites of passage. Their efforts coincided with an emerging middle class that was looking for ways to spend its money on symbols of upward mobility.
The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of northeast France with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. Churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims and Champagne wine was served as part of coronation festivities. The Champenois were envious of the reputation of the wines made by their Burgundian neighbors to the south and sought to produce wines of equal acclaim. However the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels. The wines would be lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundy wines they were seeking to outdo.
The English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. Merrett presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise in 1662.
Although Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne, he did develop many advances in production of the drink, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar (muselet) to withstand the fermentation pressure. In France, the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; its pressure led it to be called '' the devil's wine '' (le vin du diable) as bottles exploded or the cork jolted away. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the only fermentation had finished. Champagne did not utilize the méthode champenoise until the 19th century, approximately 200 years after Christopher Merret documented the process. The nineteenth century saw an explosive growth in Champagne production going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.
In the 1800s Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the Champagne of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne, the modern Champagne, was created for the British in 1876.
Méthode Champenoise
Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although each brand has its own secret recipe) and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared. This means that the Champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the Champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.
After ageing, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage, so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup (le dosage) is added to maintain the level within the bottle.
An initial burst of effervescence occurs when the Champagne contacts the dry glass on pouring. These bubbles may form on imperfections in the glass that facilitate nucleation or on cellulose fibres left over from the wiping/drying process as shown by Gérard Liger-Belair, Richard Marchal, and Philippe Jeandel with a high-speed video camera. However, after the initial rush, these naturally occurring imperfections are typically too small to consistently act as nucleation points as the surface tension of the liquid smooths out these minute irregularities. The nucleation sites that act as a source for the ongoing effervescence are not natural imperfections in the glass, but actually occur where the glass has been etched by the manufacturer or the customer. This etching is typically done with acid, a laser, or a glass etching tool from a craft shop to provide nucleation sites for continuous bubble formation (note that not all glasses are etched in this way)
Dom Pérignon was originally charged by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 1700s, cellar workers would have to wear heavy iron mask that resembled a baseball catcher's mask to prevent injury from spontaneously bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle's disintegration could cause a chain reaction, with it being routine for cellars to lose 20-90% of their bottles to instability. The mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations '' The Devil's Wine '' .
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