By Chere Di Boscio
It has long been the drink of choice for toasting and celebrations, and is practically synonymous with elegance and taste. It’s the beverage of choice for New Year’s celebrations coming up, and always makes a wonderful gift. But what’s the difference between champagne and sparkling wine?
For a long time, all sparkling wine was referred to as “champagne” until many countries chose to apply the “rules of appellation.” This restored the technical designation of champagne so that it referred only to those sparkling wines grown and made in the Champagne in the Northeastern region of France.
Champagne from France’s Champagne region continues to be the “gold standard” of sparkling wine because the climate is cool and combines with the chalky soil to produce very acidic grapes, ideal for making the famous beverage. Moreover, champagne from this region tends to be aged for years rather than the months of aging allowed for most other varieties. In other regions where sparkling wine is produced, it tends to be referred to as: Cava in Spain; Sekt in Germany; Spumante in Italy; and sparkling wine in Australia, the US, New Zealand, and South Africa.
If you’re not familiar with the specialist jargon on the bottle, Tirage gives the date when the grape juice from the Premier Cru vineyard was filled into the bottle and started ripening together with the yeast. Yeast is traditionally used in the Méthode Champenoise to convert the grapes’ sugar to alcohol and CO2 which is responsible for the Perlage (bubbles). In general, the longer champagnes were in contact with the yeast, the finer the Perlage (bubbles) becomes and the more silk-like the feel on palate and tongue.
The Degorge gives the date when the yeast was removed and when the Dosage – a little dose of reserve wine – was added. The Dosage gives champagne their final character and determines their level of sweetness.
Finally, Lot gives the date when the bottle was ‚dressed‘, meaning when the labels were applied and when the bottle was packaged for final delivery to the customers.
What should people consider when choosing a champagne?
I think it depends on their budget and purpose. How many people will be drinking? Is it for toasting or for serving with a meal? Is it for a celebration? Generally, for drinking, one bottle will serve 4; for toasting, 6. Are they aiming to entertain? Or is the bottle a gift? For very special occasions, of course an exceptional bottle should be chosen; something rarer than the average supermarket brand.
How should champagne be served?
Make sure you store your champagne in a cool place before serving. It is to be served cold at about 43 to 48°F (7°C). In this range the smell and taste of the wine can be fully appreciated. This temperature can be achieved by placing the unopened bottle in an ice bucket — one-half ice and one-half water — for 20 to 30 minutes.
What makes a champagne truly great?
That a truly great champagne carries a whole body, great flavour, is self-explanatory. I would add that a great champagne doesn’t take centre stage for too long when being served. Of course, people should notice it but it shouldn’t dwell too long. Of course, a great champagne needs to be able to cope with different temperature levels while being enjoyed because it heats up in the glass slightly. Thats why we give our champagnes a long resting time; the current Brut Rosé Saignée has had almost seven years of ageing to give its strength.
What’s special about the Champagne region for growing grapes?
Normally, I would say it is the terroir, microclimate and the grapes themselves. But what I think is far more important is the contrast of the region and its wine. Even though the region was the stage for some of the fiercest battles being fought; its wines are THE symbol for celebration of life and happiness. This leads to the question: did the champagne become the drink for celebration because it carries the spirit of overcoming adversity, or did people overcome adversity because of champagne?
Is it important to drink an organic champagne?
How would you describe the body and flavour of Champagne de Watere?
Our champagnes carry a very diverse body, with flavours modern champagnes can rarely display. This is a combination of the eco-friendly production methods and the long resting period. We follow the approach that good things need time, that stepping back from the noise is necessary, especially in today’s hectic world. And this relaxation is displayed in the fruity and self-confident taste of our champagnes. They have had time and peace to develop to their full potential which comes through at every sip.
Your brand is ‘eco sensitive’. What does that mean?
We take pride in employing methods which resemble those used before the Industrial Revolution, when man still respected nature as their partner in creating something exceptional.
Not only do we give our champagnes up to six times as long a development time in ancient chalk caves as normal for a multi-vintage cuvée. We also employ manual labour wherever possible. Harvesting the grapes and handling the champagne, only people can touch as gently as needed for an exceptional champagne.
In addition to humans taking care of the grapes and the vines, we employ horses instead of tractors in the Premier Cru vineyard in the Vallée de la Marne in France. Employing horses not only helps the growth of the vines, keep the soil in great condition but it also reduces harmful emissions.
Just like the people, our horses are perfect to sense how to move along the rows of vines while giving them room to develop to their full potential.