Yesterday, we went to the Domaine Chandon winery and took a tour and did a special tasting. The special tasting was awesome because it was just us and the tour guide tasting the different champagnes and one of their still wines (the pinot noir). In this kind of setting, I was encouraged to ask as many questions as I wanted to. The first question I asked was one that I never quite understood-what is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?
Honestly, the only difference between sparkling wine and champagne is the name-not the way it is produced! Originally, I thought that only grapes used to make champagne from the Champagne region of France could be called champagne and that everything else in the world was called sparkling wine. Part of that is true actually. The Treaty of Madrid made it so that most countries in the world such as Italy, Spain and Africa could not call their champagnes "champagne". The treaty made it so that all of the countries who signed agreed that champagne produced in the Champagne region of France could be called "champagne". That's why is Italy its called spumante, Spain its known as Cava and in South Africa its called Cap Classique, for example. The reason why the United States can get away using the term "champagne" is because during the time when this treaty was put into effect, the United States was in the middle of Prohibition. We didn't sign the treaty, hence we didn't have to follow the rules. How very American of us! The reason why Chandon refers to their champagnes as sparkling wines is out of respect for the French. Their parent company (Louis Vuitton) is French. Go figure. The French are VERY protective of their language so the explanation makes sense.
Whatever you want to call it (sparkling wine or champagne), after our tour and tasting yesterday, I now have a deeper appreciation for the bubbly stuff! Did you know the foam you see in the glass when you pour it from the bottle is called the "moose"? It's the same as the "head" in a beer. The more moose you have, the better the quality of champagne you have. The bigger the bubbles in the glass though, the bigger the headache.
As for what to look for in a good glass of champagne, there are three things: the moose, the bubbles and the taste. You should never judge a bottle or glass of champagne on the price alone. Just because a bottle of champagne is $100 doesn't mean its going to be amazing. You must take into consideration the size of the moose, the size of the bubbles and how it tastes. If you don't like the taste, it isn't going to matter what you spend on it. As a rule of thumb when it comes to champagne, the most expensive is not necessarily going to be better. It really comes down to your own personal taste.
Did you know that "Extra Dry" means that there is extra sugar? The order of sweetness from least sweet to most sweet is: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi and Doux. Also, do you know what makes a "Rose" a "Rose"? It's just a mixture of champagne and pinot noir. That is what gives it the blush color. There are also three types of grapes used in producing champagne: red pinot meunier, red pinot noir and chardonnay.
When it comes to champagne in general, the basic rule of thumb is to chill it and then kill it. Once the yeast is pulled from the bottle and the contents are corked, its ready for consumption. The aging process for champagne ends when the yeast is extracted from the bottle. So the longer you wait to drink a bottle, the lower in quality it becomes.
I now have three new champagne cocktail recipes to try this week at work!