Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Methode Champenoise

Today, I will answer the question "How does Champagne get its bubbles?" by going over Methode Champenoise. This is the method by which traditional Champagne is made in France. The winemakers essentially start out making regular white or rose wine in barrels. In Champagne, the three grapes they use are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Once the "regular" wine is made in a style that is high-acid and low-sugar, the fun begins. The winemaker will then put the wine in bottles, and a dosage (also known as the liquer d'tirage) in the wine. This is a syrup of yeast, sugar, and some nutrients. After it is added, the bottle is capped off with the same type of caps you see on a bottle of beer. The yeast in the dosage starts to consume the sugar, giving off carbon dioxide. This, my friends, is where the bubbles in Champagne come from. While this is going on, the bottles are inverted and as the yeasts die off, there is a sediment that forms in the wine. Through the process of remuage (or riddling), the bottles are turned so that the sediment all falls into the neck of the inverted bottle. Riddling is done either mechanically or by hand. Once the sediment has all precipitated out of the wine, the necks of the bottles are frozen in a salt water solution. The "beer cap" is then removed, and through a very fun process called disgorging, the pressure in the bottle shoots the frozen plug of sediment out of the bottle. Often a small amount of the champagne is lost in the process too. The next step is where the style of Champagne is produced. In order to replace the lost liquid, a small amount of Champagne, as well as sugar, is added back to the bottle. This is called the Liqueur d'expedition, and determines how sweet or dry the Champagne will be. The wine is then corked, and in many cases aged in the bottle for a number of years.

In the next couple of days, I will go over sparkling wines from different areas of the world. It is important to have the foundation of knowing how this glorious liquid is produced in order to realize what a wonderful thing an inexpensive yet delicious bottle of sparkling wine can be!

Today's recommendation has nothing to do with bubbles. The Snowden family is a 3rd generation winemaking family out of Rutherford in Napa. Their 2006 "Ranch" cabernet is dark, inky, and bold with notes of cassis, plum, vanilla, and as my co-worker/sommelier friend Keith pointed out this morning- potato skin. It scored 92 points in Spectator, and should cost you around $40 or $45. On a personal note, I actually talked my dad out of buying some Caymus Napa Cab, and buying this one instead. Not that there's anything wrong with the Caymus, I just think the Snowden is a better value.

Cheers, and enjoy your day!

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