The key process in producing Champagne is a second fermentation that occurs in a sealed bottle - it creates the carbonation. The key steps are described below.
Step 1: Selecting the Cuvée: The cuvée is the base wine selected to make the Champagne. The most expensive Champagnes are made from cuvées from Grand Cru vineyards in the Champagne region. Cuvées can be from a pure grape variety, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or can be a mixture of several grape varieties. Chardonnay is a white grape variety with white juice, Pinot Noir a red grape variety with WHITE juice. Pinot Meunier, a red grape, is a relative of Pinot Noir, also used extensively.
Step 2: Assemblage is the French art of blending still white wines to create the base wine for Champagne. Assemblage is at the core of all fine Champagne.
Step 3: Tirage (the second fermentation): Next sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients are added, and the entire concoction, called the “tirage”, is put in a thick walled glass bottle and sealed with a bottle cap. The tirage is placed in a cool cellar (55-60 F) and allowed to slowly ferment, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Step 4 Aging: As the fermentation proceeds, yeast cells die and after several months, the fermentation is complete. However, the Champagne continues to age in the cool cellar for several more years resulting in a toasty, yeasty characteristic. During this aging period, the yeast cells split open and spill into the solution imparting complex, yeasty flavors to the Champagne. The best and most expensive Champagne is aged for five or more years. This completes the second fermentation.
Step 5: Riddling: After the aging process is complete the dead yeast cells are removed through a process known as riddling (Le Remuage). The Champagne bottle is placed upside down in a holder at a 75 degree angle. Each day the riddler comes through the cellar and turns the bottle 1/8th of a turn while keeping it upside down. This procedure forces the dead yeast cells into the neck of the bottle where they are subsequently removed. A riddler typically handles 20,000 to 30,000 bottles per day.
Step 6: Disgorging: The Champagne bottle is kept upside down while the neck is frozen in an ice-salt bath. This procedure results in the formation of a plug of frozen wine containing the dead yeast cells. Finally, the bottle cap is removed and the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas in the bottle forces the plug of frozen wine out (“disgorging”) leaving behind clear Champagne.
Step 7: Adding the Dosage: At this point the “Dosage”, a mixture of white wine, brandy and sugar is added to adjust the sweetness level of the wine and to top up the bottle.
Step 8: Corking: The bottle is then corked and the cork wired down to secure the high internal pressure of the carbon dioxide. The sweetness levels of Champagne range from very dry (ultra brut) to very sweet (doux), with brut being the most common.
The Marque is usually the name of the producer, but it may be a brand name such as Moët & Chandon
An indication of style here is optional, and if none is found you may take it that the Champagne will be a non-vintage brut and almost certainly blended from the three primary grape varieties.
In a vintage Champagne 100% of the grapes used are from the year indicated.
Village names in large type denote the sole origin of the Champagne, otherwise, place names merely indicate the location of the producer. As qualified, it will indicate if it is from Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards.
The initials in front of this little code are the key to who has produced the Champagne.
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