Some accounts credit monk Dom Pérignon with inventing champagne in the 1600s. The story goes that when making wine, he didn't finish the process and corked the bottles prematurely. Months later bottles began bursting and when he sampled some of the wine he cried out, "Come quickly, I'm tasting stars!"
Others credit him not with discovering bubbly, but with perfecting champagne production with the "Méthode Champenoise" - rules for champagne-making still in use today. Though production methods vary from vineyard to vineyard, here are the basic steps used to make champagne:
Harvesting and Pressing
The grapes are gently picked (hand-picked for finer champagne) and gently pressed. The juice is allowed to settle so some of the sediment may be removed.
This first of two fermentations takes place in vats. Yeast turns the juice into alcohol and the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape. Sugar may be added according to strict rules or chapitalisation.
Wine from different grapes and ages are mixed, then slowly cooled and filtered, creating the "cuvée".
The cuvée is sweetened to encourage the second fermentation, yeast may also be added, then the mixture is bottled, and a temporary cap is applied so the carbonic acid is trapped and can form bubbles.
A Riddler is responsible for adjusting the position of the bottles slowly over the course of weeks until they are inverted. This allows the yeast and sediment to move to the neck of the bottle so it may be removed.
The neck of the bottle is frozen in salt water. The temporary cap is removed, and a frozen lump containing the yeast and sediment is removed. To fill the bottle, sugar dissolved in wine (set aside from the same cuvée) or sometimes cognac is added.
The bottled is corked, and the champagne is left to age at least 15 months by law. Vintage champagne must be aged in the bottle for three years. Prestige champagne is aged from 7-10 years.
Fast Facts About Champagne
Champagne comes only from France's northernmost wine growing area, the Champagne region, just 90 miles northeast of Paris.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary (2000), the word Champagne comes from Late Latin campania, flat open country.
Brut is a dry champagne and Extra Dry is actually less dry than brut. It may have been sweetened a little bit. Sec is sweet, and demi-sec even more so.
Champagne is more costly than other wines because there are so many steps in its production.
Champagne should be stored on its side in darkness; sunlight can spoil it.
It can be recorked and kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.