Hello wine lovers and happy wine Wednesday! I trust your week has been wonderful.
I had the most wonderful class last night in my French Wine Scholar program. We studied and sampled my favourite beverage on the planet – Champagne. After travelling through Champagne this past summer, last nights’ class was a fantastic reminder of the scenery of the region and just how much I am attached to this region of France.
We reviewed a few great Champagne facts. Namely, that there are only 17 villages that hold a Grand Crus status, 41 villages that are Premier Crus status and 255 other villages that are able to call themselves Champagne. They are ranked by village – Grand Crus having a score of 100%, Premier Crus 90 – 99% and Champagne 80-89%. Impressive.
The phenomenal minerality taste and aroma in Champagne come from the chalk soils on which the best vineyards are planted on. The climate of Champagne is continental with some maritime influences which make the Champagne harvests quite unpredictable from year to year. The most planted grape variety is Pinot Noir which covers 38% of vineyards, followed by Pinot Meunier with 34% and finally Chardonnay with 28%.
The beautiful flavours and aromas of biscuit, toasted nuts and brioche all come from the dead yeast cells used in the secondary fermentation. Personally, the more toast, mushroom and bread flavours and aromas in a Champagne, the better! These ‘yeasty’ notes are called ‘autolytic’ characteristics. By law, a non-vintage Champagne must spend 15 months on its ‘lees’ ( dead yeast ) and Vintage Champagne is a minimum of 3 years but most big houses keep them aging longer. More age gives the Champagne more autolytic character.
Four people who truly helped revolutionize how we are able to enjoy Champagne today are:
- Dom Pérignon – introduced the idea of blends for his wines and took grapes from many vineyards to get a better result. Was a champion of cork closures and new glass technology out of the UK.
- Brother Jean Oudart – this fellow developed an exact formula for the quantity of yeast and sugar so that the amount of ‘sparkle’ would be consistent.
- Nicole Barbe Ponsardin (Veuve Clicquot) – invented the riddling table which is a process of turning the bottles from a horizontal position to a vertical position over the course of a few months to collect all dead yeast at the top of the bottle.
- Madame Pommery – didn’t love her Champagne sweet so she was the pioneer of making Champagne taste less sweet which is still the trend today!
Oh my goodness…I could go on and on but I won’t. We tried five bottles of sparkling wine last night – 1 was Crémant and four were Champagne. My two standouts were:
Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (12.5%) $54.99 This bottle of 100% Chardonnay Champagne absolutely blew my mind. It was elegant with those fantastic biscuit and toasted nut flavours I love. Nice acid, medium body and great complexity. You can buy this lovely at the B.C. Signature Liquor Stores. Just awesome.
Lanson Gold Label Brut Vintage 1999 (12.5%) AOC Champagne $124.99 This glass of bubbles did not taste like it was lacking in sparkle even with the amount of age already on it! It is made up of 47% Chardonnay and 53% Pinot Noir. This had a strong, pronounced aroma that I feel in love with. Lots of apple and toasted nuts, some smoke, some citrus with a really fantastic amount of acidity. Our instructor said that this bottle still has another 10 years of aging left in it. Amazing.
That is it for this week! I hope you don’t save your Champagne for only special occasions! Champagne is one of the most food friendly options there is. There is no time like the present. (PS – if you would like to know the other three bottles I tried last night – do send me a message and I will give you the details.)