“Champagne” is a magical word! It immediately conjures up thoughts of celebration, gaiety and good times. Whether toasting at a wedding or adding festivity and romance to Valentine’s Day, those tiny little bubbles give sheer delight to the palate.
Where do those bubbles come from? At its most simplistic, wine is made in the normal fashion by allowing yeast to convert the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide which dissipates into the air. Then the wine is placed into the bottle with a bit of sugar and yeast, sealed up and laid down to work its magic. Again, the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, but this time the gas cannot escape the confines of the bottle. Voilà!
But bubbles in wine were not always so highly esteemed. The Champenoise back in the day did not know about the way yeast functions. In the cold climate of Champagne, France, fermentations would slow down and appear to be finished and so the wines were placed in bottles. The following spring, as the weather started to warm up, the yeast would awaken and fermentation would start again causing gas and pressure to build up in the bottle. The wood-fired French glass was not able to contain the mounting pressure. One bottle exploding could set off a chain reaction in the cellar. So, it is easy to see why the vignerons would not be fans of bubbles in their wine.
And the story of Dom Pérignon inventing Champagne, saying, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars”? Well, that’s hogwash. The English were the first to make sparkling wine intentionally. In 1662, scientist Christopher Merret wrote about the practice of adding sugar to the wines that arrived in London by barrel to create a second fermentation. This was six years before Dom Pérignon arrived in Champagne and 40 years before he is claimed to have invented it. And remember the wood-fired French glass from earlier? Well, the English had coal-fired glass that was much stronger and could stand up to the pressure. The poor French did not even invent their most famous wine!
The region of Champagne is located 90 miles northeast of Paris. The vineyards are on gently rolling hills with chalky soils. Most of the major Champagne houses have tasting rooms in the cities of Reims (pronounced “ren”) and Epernay. Nothing could possibly be more romantic than to drink Champagne in Champagne!
Champagne is one of the most versatile food pairing wines. The bubbles and the acid cleanse the palate and make you want to take another bite. It goes with potato chips and popcorn (try it!), creamy cheeses, oysters, pasta or fish. Rosé Champagne can even pair with salmon, tuna and light red meats. Here are some of the wines I would highly recommend: Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, Philippe Gonet Blanc de Blancs, Delamotte, Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Peters and Billecart-Salmon Rosé. And remember, it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day or another special occasion to drink Champagne. Drink it because it’s Tuesday!
About the author: Dinah Leach is the Wine Director and Sommelier for Angelina’s Ristorante of Bonita Springs. Please feel free to contact her with any wine questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.