How are Wine and Champagne Similar?
Wine and Champagne start out exactly the same. Champagne is wine that has just been processed a bit differently to get the bubbles.
Grape varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown in vineyards all over the world. The grapes are allowed to ripen on the vine until the Brix level is within the range that the winemaker is looking for.
Brix is a measurement of sugar and can range from 19.5 all the way up to 26! The higher the Brix the higher the sugar and the higher the sugar the higher the alcohol by volume (ABV) will be. Grapes used for Champagne are usually between 18-21 Brix and end with an ABV of 11%.
The grapes are brought to the winery to be pressed into juice and fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks. After fermentation is complete the now fermented juice is filtered.
Wine is allowed to age in stainless tanks or in oak barrels until the winemaker has determined that it is ready to age gracefully in the bottle.
This is where Wine becomes Champagne
Wine that is meant to be Champagne is placed directly in the bottle to prepare for a secondary fermentation. Also known as, Méthode Champenoise, a Tirage or mixture of yeast and sugar is added to the bottle and a temporary cap is placed on the bottle. The secondary fermentation is what gives Champagne all those lovely little bubbles. The Champagne bottles are placed on Riddling Racks where the bottles are placed with the neck down at a 45-degree angle to collect the yeast sediment. When the Champagne has completed the secondary fermentation, all of the sediment has settled in the neck and the wine maker has achieved his or her goals then the bottle is Disgorged or the sediment is removed, then a solution of sugar called Dosage is added and the bottle is corked and prepared for storage and/or shipment to be sold.
True Champagne can ONLY come from Champagne, France and can ONLY be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane grapes. Pinot Noir is the mostly widely used followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
According the French Law any other Sparkling Wine that comes from any other place other than the region Champagne France or made with grapes not listed above must NOT be called Champagne.
In the US we used the terms Sparkling Wine or Champagne Method. Spanish bubbles are called Cava and in Italy we say Prosseco, Labrusco or Asti.
My top 3 tips in the art of choosing Wine and Champagne
1. Wine and Champagne are subjective – Drink what YOU love!
2. For Champagne or Sparkles – stick with Méthode Champenoise. Lower quality bubbles will be injected with carbon dioxide which gives big sharp bubbles that are not as delicious on the palate.
3. Find a great wine shop in your neighborhood or even your local Whole Foods Market and make friends with the wine buyer. They will get to know your preferences and be able to direct you to wines that you will love
Cheers. Prost. Salute.
Alisa Rosa is a graduate of the CCA, an Executive Chef, Professional Wine Buyer and is obsessed with bubbles from around the world. She can be found on her blog at TheChefChic.com