Showing posts with label Dom Perignon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dom Perignon. Show all posts

Saturday, November 30, 2019

'Tis the Season to Drink Bubbly!

 I only drink champagne on two occasions. When I am in love, and when I am not. 
- Coco Chanel

Nothing puts me in the holiday spirit more than the whisper when the Champagne cork is gently twisted off. Or for those who prefer a touch of drama, the slash of the saber across the bottle neck.

During the holiday season, you can also expect Champagne tasting at many local wine shops, drumming up the sale of the celebratory libation. So I'd like to take this moment to share with you a few fun facts about Champagne.

NV Louis Roederer
#1 Will the Real Champagne Grapes Please Stand Up?

You have seen them in the grocery store. Those tiny sweet seedless berries of Champagne grapes. Alas! Those are not the grapes used to make Champagne. They are not even *gasp* French.

So what grapes are used to make Champagne?

About 98% of the grapes that go into Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The other 2% allowed are Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Fromenteau), Pinot de Juillet, and Pinot Rosé. Even though both white and black grapes are used to make Champagne, most bubblies are white wine, and about 12% are pink.

Sometimes you will see Blanc de Blanc (white from white) or Blanc de Noir (white from black) listed on the label. Despite the names, both are white Champers. Blanc de Blancs are made with only white grapes, typically 100% Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs are made with only black grapes, primarily Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, but with minimum skin contact. Blanc de Noirs are not to be confused with rosé Champagnes.

#2 NV, MV, or Vintage?

Most Champagnes you see are labelled NV (non-vintage). This means the Champagne is blended from grapes of different vintages or different years of harvest. NV is sometimes marketed as MV (multi-vintage), which more accurately describes the blend. Most NV Champagnes follow a house style, ensuring consistency in taste and quality. NV or MV wine can be released for sale fifteen months after harvest, which provides early cashflow for the Champagne houses or growers.

Dom Pérignon tour in Eperney
Vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is made from grapes that are harvested in the same year. On the label, you will see the year of the vintage. Vintage Champagnes are rare as they rely on a single year of good harvest. Additionally, the wine needs to be aged three years in the bottle prior to release. This is a luxury that small producers cannot afford. 

Dom Pérignon and Cristal are two famous vintage Champagnes. The last Dom Perignon vintage was released in 2009, and the last Cristal vintage 2012.

#3 Does Size Matter?

Yes, if cellaring wine is important to you. Larger-format bottles are usually made of thicker glass and provide better protection from light exposure and temperature variation. Moreover, the higher wine-to-oxygen ratio helps the wine age more slowly and gracefully. The rule of thumb is to drink smaller formats young and cellar bigger formats.

Moët & Chandon bottle sizes
While no one really knows the origin of why larger-format bottles are named after biblical characters, it is always fun to see if you get the names right. To complicate matters, some of the same names are used to refer to different sizes when describing still wine.

Piccolo/quarter bottle = 187.5 ml
Demi/half bottle = 375 ml 
Bottle = 750 ml 
Magnum = 1.5 liters (2 bottles)
Jeroboam = 3 liters (4 bottles)*
Rehoboam = 4.5 liters (6 bottles)*
Methuselah = 6 liters (8 bottles) 
Salamanazar = 9 liters (12 bottles) 
Balthazar = 12 lite4s (16 bottles) 
Nebuchadnezzar = 15 liters (20 bottles)
Solomon = 18 liters (24 bottles)

* For still wine, 3-liter is called Double Magnum, and 4.5-liter is called Jeroboam.

Now that you know a few more things about Champagne, go in confidence to that sparkling wine tasting. Perhaps you want to get yourself a Jeroboam of that NV Blanc de Blanc for the holiday party. 

'Tis the season to drink bubbly!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Épernay, Capital of Champagne!

Vineyards around Épernay
A mere hour and a quarter from Paris by train, Épernay is nestled among vineyard after vineyard in the heart of Champagne country. Six of us arrived here one summer day, thirsty for some bubbly but only armed with enough French to name grape varietals.

In the town of Épernay is the renowned Avenue de Champagne, lined with big Champagne houses, such as Möet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier, and Perrier Jouët. Beneath the streets are over 60 miles of subterranean cellars containing millions and millions of bottles of sparkling wine.

The tourism office in Épernay is situated on the famous Avenue. Head over there for additional information about the area and its various attractions. Take the Petit Train Touristique Mill'Bulles (Little Tourist Train of a Thousand Bubbles) for a quick tour to learn about the fascinating heritage of the town and enjoy its quirky street art and stately buildings.

As a bonus, you will almost always find a couple of Champagne houses hosting free tastings at the office. Be sure to have a glass or two before you head out.


Möet et Chandon

Tasting Champagne
Our first order of business was to head over to Möet et Chandon for our cellar tour and Champagne tasting. The big Champagne house is associated with luxury name brands, Louis Vuitton and Hennessy, as well as royalty from Napoleon Bonaparte to Queen Elizabeth II. It is no wonder that the entire estate screams opulence.

We joined the English-speaking tour (reservation highly recommended!) and were introduced to the history of the house and the Champagne making process from vine to wine. We walked through the underground caves, past riddling racks of sparkling wine bottles, where lees were gradually urged to the necks. The cellar also boasts of a beautifully carved wooden barrel that was once filled with port, a gift from Napoleon. By the end of the tour, the thirsty gang was rewarded with delicious Champagne. Yum!

Riddling Rack
Napoleon's Gift of Port
The most prestigious Champagne brand from Möet et Chandon is Dom Pérignon, named after the famous Benedictine monk remembered as the "Father of Champagne." Although Dom Pérignon did not technically discover the process of making Champagne, his namesake vintage cuvee is definitely worthy of special occasions. Unfortunately, Dom Pérignon did not come with the tasting. We settled for a goofy photo with the Dom's statue instead.

Picture with the Dom

Side Note, Special Town - Hautvillers

We spent the night at a cottage (known as a gite) in Hautvillers. Hautvillers is a cute little commune about four miles north of Épernay and surrounded by vineyards. In this town is also the Abbey of St. Peter, where Dom Pérignon and Dom Thierry Ruinart refined the process of Champagne making. Attached to the abbey is the Church of St. Sindulphe, which is also the final resting place of the Dom.

Abbaye Saint-Pierre
You will find info about different gites at the tourism office. It is definitely a wonderful lodging option, especially for group accommodation. The one inconvenience is that you have to figure out transportation, which can be a bit challenging if you don't speak enough French to order a taxi or fancy driving on narrow hilly roads.

My Verdict: If possible, visit Épernay with a Francophone. A little French goes a long way. However, once you get there, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of Champagne country. Visiting in the summer poses a challenge as it is prime vacation time for the many small Grower Champagne makers and restaurants. But drink some Champagne and go with the flow. It will still be a trip to remember!