On Thanksgiving, we stuff ourselves silly. On Columbus Day, we go to work (because, really, Columbus Day?). And on New Year’s Eve, we pop bottles, clink glasses, chug and repeat. In advance of the countdown to 2017, brush up on your knowledge of the special-occasion beverage with Van Winkle’s' abbreviated guide to bubbly.
No, Dom Perignon Didn’t Bring the ’Pagne
Champagne has been associated with fanciness for centuries. And, despite the myth, Dom Perignon did not, in fact, create the spirit in 1692. Sparkling wine was, in some form or another, already around; history suggests the sparkling stuff pre-dates the Dom considerably.
However, as this Wired story explains, the Dom was integral in the creation of modern champagne, as he developed “the technique that finally produced a successful white wine from red wine grapes, something vintners had been trying to accomplish for years.”
Many “Champagnes” Are Lies
On the spectrum of sparkling wines, Champagne is, unsurprisingly, the priciest. But what distinguishes Champagne from more affordable carbonated delights (prosecco, for instance)? For starters, it must be produced in Champagne. Legally, a label can only say “Champagne” if the fizzy product is bottled within 100 miles of the titular northeast region of France.
That being said, it's not unusual to see “California Champagne” at your local liquor store, as many Golden State wineries use the same method as the French #fizzwine. As you might expect, this is a matter of great controversy. The French are not known to allow their heritage to be sullied by American pedestrianism.
Only Certain Grapes Make the Cut
True bubbly can only be produced from certain grapes. Pinot noir are the most common, with pinot meunier, chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, petit meslier and arbane also thrown in the vat. Most blended Champagnes (90 percent, according to Winecountry), are two-third red grape and one-third chardonnay.
True Champagne must also be made according to secondary fermentation (technically called Methode Champenoise), a lengthy two-step process responsible for its signature bubbles. The grape juice is first fermented, then bottled so as to trap carbon dioxide.
It’s a Highly Regulated Spirit
The Appellation d’Controlee (AOC) regulates the Champagne-making process, stipulating precise methods for growing, harvesting and processing the grapes. Champagne grapes, for instance, must be hand-picked and pressed twice (first to make the cuvee base, and a second time for the taille, which provides pigment). Classification as vintage or non-vintage depends on the use of grapes from one year or different years.
There Is a Big Bubble Controversy
While it’s been reported that a glass of champagne contains an average of 15 million bubbles, a chemist recently undertook a more rigorous carbonation investigation and proffered a new estimate: one million.
The formula responsible for the 15 million bubble figure, according to Gerard Liger-Belair, is oversimplified, failing to account for dissolved carbon dioxide that leaves the glass without becoming bubbles. Additionally, bubble size changes over time, likely affecting the big bubble number. Liger-Belair came up with a new bubble-count formula after considering the temperature, bubble dynamics and flute-tilt.
Temperature can make or break a bottle of bubbly. Generally speaking, bottles should be served somewhere between 43 and 48 degrees; this temperature range brings out the nose and body of the Champagne. No thermometer necessary — simply place a bottle in a bucket of ice and water (a roughly 50-50 split) for about half an hour.
Some Bottles You Should Buy
As everyone knows, #fizzwine means dollar signs. For real Champagne, plan to spend at least $40. Here are five bottles at different price points we here at Van Winkle's love. Cheers.