Drinking good Champagne is basically the equivalent of having a thousand tiny magical fairies kissing your tastebuds. It’s no wonder this incredible drink has stood the test of time, from its humble beginnings as the ‘Devil’s Wine’ (le vin du diable) when the pressure in the bottle caused bottles to explode or corks to pop. We’ve come a long way since then however, and the vast range of varieties and taste sensations on offer now can be somewhat bewildering. Luckily for us, we have Charley May to guide us through the basics.
A biologist by training, Charley escaped from the lab to forge a career in wine as a representative of Vinomofo and winner of the 2014 Australian New Wine Writer of the Year award. She shares with us a comprehensive look at all things Champagne and beyond…
Considered the king in the world of bubbles, Champagne is both a wine and region in northeast France. Only fizzy wine produced within the geographic boundaries of the Champagne region, and made according to the rules laid down by Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, can be called Champagne. It is a serious business.
Here at Glam we love to support local so when we heard about a South Aussie based company selling Champagne (yes, the real deal) right here in Adelaide, we just had to share. Arbeaumont Champagne is all about the sparkle. Want to stock up? You can get your hands on it from the guys over at Melbourne Street Cellars.
Typical taste profile of Champagne:
Many Champagnes are made using the three main grapes of the region – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. These wines can be crafted to showcase a single varietal or blended to create a certain taste profile. The rules of the region also allow pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane and petit meslier to be used if producers wish.
Depending on the grapes used, Champagne generally smells of citrus and red fruits with prominent notes of biscuit that lead to a round, creamy and spritely palate.
This one seems to confuse a lot of people, but all other wines produced in a similar fashion to Champagne, or that are effervescent but not produced in the Champagne region, can be called sparkling wine.
Some Glam faves when it comes to sparkling are, of course, the Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir. The award winning sparkling is also amongst the most drunk in Australia, and for good reason. We also love what d’Arenberg are doing with their sparkling white. The renamed Pollyanna Polly Sparkling White was actually originally known as DADD, but a certain other Champagne brand (*cough* MUMM) was none to happy about this, so Pollyanna Polly it is!
You can also get your hands on a Gapsted ‘Limited Release’ Sparkling NV for just $10 a bottle when they are normally $25 a bottle. Just head to here to grab a bargain!
So how are they made? Well Champagne and sparkling wines are produced in two main ways…
Méthode champenoise: All Champagne must be made in this way. Many high-quality sparkling wines are also produced in this way.
The wine or cuvee is blended before being bottled with a little yeast and sugar and sealed off with a crown cap. This is where the magic happens, with the yeast gobbling up the sugar. And because the CO2 can’t escape, it remains trapped. Hello, bubbles!
Charmat method: Many sparkling wines are produced in this way, including Prosecco.
In the Charmat method secondary fermentation takes place in steel tanks and the carbonated wine is then quickly transferred to bottle under pressure and super-chilled conditions to keep the bubbles in-tact.
Types/styles of sparkling wine:
It’s both the name of a white grape and a style of sparkling wine that originates from north east Italy. Unfairly known as the ‘poor person’s Champagne’, Prosecco has undergone a transformation in the last 50 years from sweet, low-quality froth to sophisticated sparkling that is currently flying off the shelves the world over.
Want a Prosecco? This Little Helper will solve all of your problems… Normally $25 a bottle, you can grab one for just $11. Ohhh yes, we love a bargain and so do our friends at Vinomofo!
Typical taste profile of Prosecco:
Traditionally made using glera grapes, with other varieties such as chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot grigio and pinot nero allowed in the blend.
Prosecco is usually dry and super-fresh with subtle notes of green apples, pears, honeysuckle and lively effervescence. It’s also generally lower in alcohol compared to Champagne which makes it a little lighter as an aperitif (always a bonus if you want to stay steady and not too heady).
Italy’s equivalent to Champagne, this fizz comes from Lombardy within the boundaries of a territory called Franciacorta. Only wines produced within these geographic limits can be given this name, and they must be made in the same way as traditional Champagne to claim their rightful title.
The key difference between this fizz and the French stuff is history and scale… Franciacorta’s history dates back 50 years compared to Champagne’s 350 years. Italy produces 27,000 hectolitres of Franciacorta compared to France’s 2,700,000 hectolitres of Champagne.
Typical taste profile of Franciacorta:
Only chardonnay, pinot nero and pinot bianco can be used in the blend. Because this sparkling wine is produced in the same way as Champagne, it tastes pretty similar too.
Spain’s equivalent to Champagne, this little sparkler is produced mainly in Catalonia. Like Champagne, it can be made white or rosé using macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo grape varieties. These guys seem to crush on France ‘cause only wines that are made using the traditional methods practiced in Champagne can be called Cava.
Typical taste profile of Cava:
It depends. Young, simple styles are full of zesty lemons, pears and melon. Aged or vintage Cava dials in some more funky flavours to party such as almond, baked apple and creamy notes.
Want to sample some Cava? Well we suggest getting your hands on a bottle of the La Granja Cava Brut NV from Vinomofo. Normally $25 a bottle, you can grab this Gold Medal winner for just $12. Don’t mind if we do!
Pronounced ‘chock-oh-lee’, this is an effervescent, super-refreshing vino from the Basque Country that’s a cracker aperitif. It’s made either white or red primarily using local grapes hondarrabi zuri and hondarrabi beltza. Designed to be enjoyed immediately, this is bright, zippy, flinty and lemony. It’s like the ultimate tapas/pintxos match. Bring it!
Bubbles are created in a different way with this wine… The grapes are picked and chilled down immediately to near zero temperatures to retain freshness. They’re then fermented with wild yeasts in steel tanks at low temperatures and blanketed with inert nitrogen gas to prevent too much carbon dioxide escaping…this ensures a slight fizz in the wine.
It’s pretty rare in Australia but a few places sell the stuff from Basque and the legends at Crittenden Estate make a lovely Aussie interpretation of this wine.
Non-vintage Vs. Vintage Champagne
With an average annual temperature of just 10℃, Champagne is one of the world’s coolest wine regions, and each year (vintage) weather conditions can vary dramatically. Because many Champagne houses need to maintain a consistent style, they’re allowed to blend wines from different vintages to iron out variations and create a wine with a very similar taste profile year in, year out. These are called non-vintage Champagnes. It’s only in the really good years, when the stars align and weather is ideal, that winemakers craft vintage Champagne where all the wine comes from a specific year.
Get to know the difference by starting off with some Yarra Valley Sparkling NV (that’s non vintage for those playing at home). This stuff is flying off the shelves and why wouldn’t it be when you can grab a bottle for $12.50 rather than its usual $35. Head here to get some before it is too late!
Is Champagne a real Brut?
Nah, it can be a real sweetie. Brut is simply one of a number of terms used to indicate the sweetness level of Champagne. Extra Brut is the driest style, with less than 6 grams per litre of sugar, while Doux is the sweetest (50 grams per litre) on the spectrum.
Get your hands on a corker of a Brut – the Charles Mignon Premium Reserve Brut is down from $80 a bottle to a cool $39.90 on Vinomofo. We’ll cheers to that!
We also can’t go past Howard Vineyard‘s Clover Sparkling Brut. With notes of strawberry and raspberry it is wonderfully delicate.
There are just under two dozen bottle sizes, from the minute to the mighty, based on convenience and pure extravagance. The smallest Champagne bottle, called a piccolo, is a teeny 0.188 litres – perfect for picnics; just add a straw. After the magnum (1.5 litres), big bubbles are traditionally named after biblical kings and historical figures. The biggest is called Melchizedek or Midas and it holds 40 litres – perfect for once in a lifetime celebrations, this will keep the party going all night.
It’s all about keeping in shape
Did you know that the shape of a glass can alter the tasting experience dramatically, so it pays to know what you’re in for. There are three main shapes for Champagne glasses and they all have pros and cons.
Vintage style that looks as cool as a Gatsby style party.
cons: Shallow depth and large surface area means the aromas escape and fizz goes flat pretty quick.
pros: Tall and elegant, this glass is perfect at keeping the bubbles alive. No really, the geometry maintains fizz like no other.
cons: Not much room at the top of the glass for the aromas and flavours to develop and linger.
pros. Sounds as pretty as it looks, this is the ultimate shape for showing Champagne at its best. It’s tailored for keeping the fizz and allowing full appreciation of the aromas and flavours.
cons. Unless it’s empty, we can’t think of any!
And with that you are now a fully fledged wiz of all things bubbles. Seriously.