I am an advocate of traveling to learn. This is exactly what my husband and I did (hence another long absence from blogging). We visited Paris, Versailles, Champagne, and Belgium.
Champagne is our second trip to a French wine producing region, our first being Burgundy. I think my favorite learning (which appealed to my history buff side) is that each region (and even wine houses) dealt with the German occupation in their own ways.
For example, it is hard to find authentic Beaune (a region within Burdundy) vintages from around the 1940s. This is because people from Beaune decided to fool the Germans into believing that they were consuming their best vintages, when in fact, they were consuming wines from less than stellar years. People from Beaune achieved this by switching labels on their wines. It apparently made for a good laugh, with Burgundians snickering as the Germans raved about drinking “zee güt feentej”.
In Champagne, the house of Pommery decided to strictly sell their wines to the Germans, a very brave thing to do at the time. They developed a notion that they would rather make money from the Germans instead of giving away their beautiful wines. The house of Moët made fake walls to hide their precious vintages. This lead to today’s generation of wine growers finding surprises in some walls, one of which was a wine that dated to back to the 1800s. There were two, one of which was consumed by their cellar master and members of the media (it apparently tasted like candy but still beautiful).
I promised that this will never be a travel blog, nor would I tell you so much about stuff you couldn’t find in the Philippines anyway… So do allow me to talk to you about some details that I haven’t covered on Champagne.
For instance, have you ever had the difficulty of trying to decode bottles of champagne from a store? The labels are a bit tricky and challenging.
Before we start going all Da Vinci code, it’s easier if we start by highlighting the three grapes that are allowed on Champagne soil:
1) Chardonnay – the only white grape allowed in a bottle of Chapmagne; this adds a bit of elegance to the texture of Champagne
2) Pinot Noir – adds body (and color for rosés)
3) Pinot Meunier – adds fruitiness (added trivia: “Meunier” is “miller” in English, an homage to the flour-like substance found on the leaves of the plant)
Now that that’s settled, let’s start decoding!
1) Blanc de Blancs – Made from 100% white (Chardonnay) grapes. I find these wines more versatile for food and wine pairing
2) Brut Rosé – Pink colored champagne, made by adding Pinot Noir wine to white champagne (trivia: The Pinot Noir used in this process is sourced from Bouzy, a town in Epernay that produces nothing but still Pinot Noirs)
3) Blanc de Noirs – Made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier only (no Chardonnays allowed!)
4) Tête de Cuvée – Super premium (expensive!) champagne. Some Champagne houses would even decorate the bottles with flowery designs.
5) A Vintage – Most champagne is made from a blend of different vintages (year of harvest) to maintain consistency. These are what you normally find in stores that either say NV (non-vintage) or simply do not have a year reflected on the bottle.
In years with very good harvest (brought about by excellent weather conditions), they make wines with no blends from previous years. These are expensive (because of the limited quantity and excellent quality). Vintage champagne will ALWAYS have a year indicated on the label. Trivia: Dom Perignon is always a vintage (the house of Moët produced this label for exactly this purpose), and its most recent vintage to date is a 2008.
Moving on, did you know that you can immediately figure out whether or not the Champagne is sweet, just by reading the label? The following are sweetness labels, which I have arranged from the driest (not sweet at all) to the sweetest:
Brut Nature/Brut Sauvage
I’ve always found the christening of ships to be lovely. I’ve recently seen a documentary on Queen Elizabeth II christening the Britania with a massive bottle of champagne. There are actually approriate names for bottle sizes of champagne.
The following are wine bottle sizes (from smallest to largest). Note that a standard sized bottle is 750 ml (75 cl if you’re reading European labels), and each standard sized bottle should serve 6 glasses (125 ml, or 12.5 cl):
Split = 1/4
Half = 1/2
Magnum = 2 Standard Bottles
Jeroboam = 4 Standard Bottles
Metuselah = 8 Standard Bottles
Salmanazar = 12 Standard Bottles
Baltazar = 16 Standard Bottles
Nebuchadnezzar = 20 Standard Bottles
After our trip to Versailles, I tried to watch a couple of movies on Marie Antoinette, one of which is Sofia Coppola’s version. While it wasn’t the best movie in the planet, the colorful visuals of decadent cakes, chocolates, macarons, strawberries, and champagne were enough to make me try to replicate them at home. 😉
I hope this inspires you to start your own bubbly adventures. Cheers!