Champagne, a history lesson.

I have recently been reading the novel, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It and learning so much about the history of champagne. This fascinating book provides a personal look into the creation of one of the most popular champagnes, Veuve Cliquot. There is an untrue rumor that Dom Perignon invented champagne. The credit actually goes to monks in the Abbey Saint Hilaire. They created Blanquette de Limoux in the early 1500s, long before the Champagne region was defined. You can buy Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux today in many stores. If you have not tried it, you should. This sparkling is made from Mauzac grapes which have a characteristic green apple flavor. It is a truly wonderful wine, rich in flavor and history, it is also very affordable.

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For the most part, bubbles that formed in wine bottles were considered a bad thing. Bottles would explode from the carbonation if primary fermentation was not complete prior to bottling the wine. Champagne came into style in the 17th century, associated with luxury and royalty. French Kings were anointed in Reims, where champagne was served during the coronation. The climate in Champagne is actually not the most suitable for growing grapes for wine. The grapes are fickle and difficult to ripen. This rough climate produces these lighter bodied wines with high acidity.

The thing about champagne is, there are a lot of rules. There is literally a government committee in a France to regulate anything and everything when it comes to champagne. In fact the use of the term champagne is restricted by the Treaty of Madrid and the Treaty of Versailles. The US was actually not under those regulations and allowed to use the word champagne until recently. It obviously must be made in the traditional method, or méthode champenoise. Champagne is usually made from 3 particular grapes but others are approved. Pinot noir, chardonnay, and petit meunière are typically all used to make champagne. Blanc de Blancs however is made solely from white grapes (Chardonnay). Blanc de Noirs is made from red grapes (Pinot noir and petit meunière). The wines are not red though because the wine is not left in contact with the skins of the grapes.

The rules require a minimum of one and half years of aging per the Appellation d’Origine Controllée. AOC is basically a certification granted to certain regions of France to produce certain things. Some years if there is a particularly good harvest the AOC will call this a millesemé. This must age for at least three years. Most champagne that you drink will be labeled NV or non-vintage. They are blends of multiple grapes from different years. To label a champagne a vintage wine, it must be 85% the grapes of that particular year.

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