Bubbling with Enthusiasm for Champagne
After falling in love with champagne a few years ago, Kathleen Moroney attained her dream job as the Singapore Brand Ambassador for Laurent-Perrier Champagnes. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! We asked her to explain the difference between sparkling wines like Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, and French Champagne.
Over the years I've enjoyed many different types of sparkling wines. And, like a lot of people, as long as they were served cold I thought they were pretty good. But, when I tasted Laurent-Perrier it all changed...it was my Champagne ah-ha moment! I set out on a quest to understand why this Champagne tasted so amazingly different and have spent years on a journey of joyful discovery.
So what is the difference between all the types of sparkling wines? Well, a lot, actually.
Location. Only wine made in the Champagne region of France, using the three varieties of grapes from their accredited vineyards, undergoing strictly controlled processes, can be called Champagne. Centuries of nurturing the vines, refining the growing methods, developing closely guarded secrets of blending, and ageing each bottle to perfection create a sparkling wine of the very highest quality and craftsmanship.
Other sparkling wines, Cava and Prosecco for instance, have no such restrictions, on how they are made or what they are made from, so cost usually plays a big role in production.
Grapes. Champagne can only be made from three different grapes—Chardonnay to give it the elegance and fruity notes; Pinot Noir to give it body, and Pinot Meunier to give it structure and balance. Chardonnay is an expensive grape, if sparkling wine producers use it at all, they may not use much.
Aging. Champagne must be aged for a minimum of 15 months in the bottle, but sparkling wine has no restrictions.
Fermentation. Champagne production requires two fermentations. The first sets raw juice in a large vat where the natural sugar is fermented out. About six months later the result is an acidic still wine that is then given over to the artistry of the expert wine maker—the Chef de Cave as they are called in Champagne.
The Chef de Cave assembles the juices in varying proportions to achieve the character that forms the base of the Champagne. Yeast and a varying amount of sugar liqueur is then added to the mixture and bottled. The yeast elevates the simple wine to that special Champagne place. The bottles are set in racks at a 75-degree angle with the bottom tilted upwards. Small chalk marks are placed on the base and every two weeks each bottle is turned, by hand (!), one-eighth of a rotation until the fermentation process is complete. This allows the residue from the yeast, which converts the sugar into alcohol (and those bubbles we all love), to fall into the neck of the bottle.
When the Chef de Cave decides they are ready, these bottles are dipped, neck down, into a freezing bath that causes the yeast sediment to freeze in the neck of the bottle. In a process called disgorgement, the temporary cap is popped off and the ‘plug’ of frozen sediment shoots out completing the second fermentation.
Finishing Touches. Dosage, a final topping up of the bottle comes next. And, it is this tiny, last addition of wine that determines the level of sweetness of the champagne.
Lastly, the bottles are ‘corked and caged’ and laid to rest in the cellars until they are deemed ready to go to market.
The next time you open a bottle of Champagne with it’s enthusiastic cork pop and feel the celebratory dance of bubbles in your mouth, I hope you’ll imagine the craftsmanship that’s gone into making it.
Read more about the Chef de Cave and champagne craftsmanship.