The great champagnes
The traditional use of champagne goes back well before the Middle Ages, more precisely in the 5th century BC. Indeed, at that time, the first baptized Frankish king, Clovis, was crowned in the cathedral of Reims. During his coronation ceremony, the wines used were champagne wines. A few centuries later, this beverage has become the wine of choice at every important event of the French crown and even at historical moments around the world. In this guide, we will review the history of the great champagnes, the method of creating this festive drink and our selection of the top producers.
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History of champagne wine
Wine has been used in the celebration of the Eucharist since the beginning of Christianity. But champagne made its first entry into history at the baptism and coronation of the first king of France, Clovis, in the year 496 BC. Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, gave the monarch the anointing. And the wines of Champagne were consecrated on that day. A few centuries later, the official union between the queen of Navarre, countess of Champagne and Philippe IV le bel, king of France sealed the eternal link between Champagne and the French crown. Thus, from 898 to 1825, the coronation of the kings of France took place in the heart of Champagne. The wines of Champagne were present in great quantities during these banquets and it was even customary to offer them to any royal visitor who came to the region. Also, during the 18th century during the French Revolution, they were the only drinks to be served to celebrate the outcome of this period of political and social upheaval. Becoming a must for the great moments of history, the same sparkling drink federated the European powers that participated in the Congress of Vienna between September 1814 and June 1815. It is also toasted at the signing of major treaties, such as the Treaty of Maastricht or at major exhibitions. Its fame is so undisputed that it is inconceivable not to pour champagne on happy moments in life and special achievements. Thus, the inaugural flights of the Concorde, the conquest of Annapurna and Everest, the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the car race... are all celebrated with champagne. The opening of a bottle of this excellent wine is not only for the holidays. Philippe d'Orléans asked for this wine before his appearance before the revolutionary court. Czarist troops defeated by Napoleon also drowned their sorrows in this sparkling drink.
Process of champagne making
Champagne wine from the 7th to the 17th century was not sparkling. Legend has it that the blessed monk Dom Perignon invented the process of making wine sparkling. But if we refer to the history, the "Maison Ruinart" is the first to offer the sparkling version of Champagne wine in 1729. In fact, Champagne is the result of blending basic wines using three grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier). They are grown in many vineyards, up to a hundred basic wines. The idea is to ensure the consistency of non-vintage champagne. White champagnes made from 100% Chardonnay are lively, elegant, delicate with a good capacity for aging. They become more structured with the addition of pinot noir while the addition of meunier gives them fruity and floral notes. To create champagne, producers use the "méthode champenoise". The wine is placed in a wine bottle made of a solid glass. They add a dose of sugar and yeast to create bubbles. The cork is not yet placed in the bottle. Then they let the wine age in the cellars for 18 months to over 10 years depending on the champagne. If there is no riddling machine, they turn the bottles slightly every day to bring the sediment from the lees to the top of the bottle. Machines then freeze the neck of the bottle. Then they remove the and the lees will come out due to the pressure in the bottle. They may add a sugar or syrup solution before corking the bottle. The champagne is then ready to be sold.
Unlike Bordeaux wines which are classified by region, by city, by village and by parcel, champagne classification is done according to crus, and the village in which the grapes are grown. There are also a myriad of champagne brands. Some products are made by a single champagne house, others are grown by cooperatives or from several producers. In any case, there are big brand champagnes like Moet et Chandon/Dom Pérignon, Cristal/Roederer, Pol Roger/Winston etc.
The main champagne production houses
-Moet et Chandon / Dom Pérignon: Dom Pérignon is surely the most influential name in the history of champagne. Moet Chandon purchased the right to use the name in the 19th century. Since then, the House has experienced a boom in sales and has exported its champagnes around the world. It created the first Prestige Cuvée in 1936 using a 1921 vintage champagne. The champagnes of this producer are distinguished by the finesse of the bubble, their lightness and their suppleness.
-Armand de Brignac: the Cathier family, producers of this prestigious cuvée, have been cultivating the family vineyards since 1763. It is one of the oldest cellars of champagne. The elaboration of champagne is made from the most exquisite wine of each harvest. Each bottle marketed by this producer is also a true work of art with the hand-polished pewter or gold-plated labels. The Armand de Brignac bottle has become a flagship creation of this House thanks in part to the favor of rapper Jay Z who acquired the distribution company in 2014.
-Roederer: This Champagne House owns 240 ha composed mainly of Grand Cru and Premier Cru. It began exporting its wines to the United States and Russia in the 1870s. Louis Roederer launched his prestige cuvee Cristal, the most emblematic cuvee of the House created for Tsar Alexander II that year. It is also the first prestige cuvée in the history of champagnes. This sparkling wine is distinguished by its unique quality, smooth, greedy and slightly acidic.
-Krug: this House founded in 1843 by Joseph Krug is the only one to produce 5 prestige vintages. Each year, it produces champagnes of exceptional quality that fully express the character of their terroirs. They are sparkling wines with singular characters, rich, fruity, fine and elegant with a remarkable longevity.
-Laurent Perrier: this company belongs to the Laurent-Perrier group which owns other leading brands such as the houses Salon Champagne, De Castellane and Delamotte. The group also acquired Château Malakoff in 2004. Its champagnes are distinguished by their timeless character, elegant, fresh, pure and full with an exceptional length in the mouth.
-Salon: this champagne house founded in 1820 belongs to the Laurent-Perrier group. The production of the brand is very limited. A large part is exported to Japan. This exceptional grand cru has a complex nose and an elegant, long and fine palate.
-Perriet Jouet: this company was created in 1811 in the heart of the Champagne region. After two centuries, Perriet Jouet's vineyard heritage extends to 65 ha mainly planted with pinot noir. Its champagnes express a floral elegance, a luxurious sip, balanced and a noble persistence in the finish.
-Jacques Selosse: Anselme Selosse's ancestors cultivated vines but it is since 1959 that his father produces and sells his own champagne. His champagnes have complex and varied aromas, enigmatic flavors, impeccable balance and amazing length.
-Taittinger: Jacques Fourneaux founded this house in 1734. Today, his great-grandchildren run this 288 ha vineyard. It produces elegant, fine and delicate champagnes.
-Agrapart et fils: Arthur Agrapart founded this house at the end of the 19th century. Today, the 12 ha vineyard produces champagnes with a beautiful balance between mineral finesse and complexity of aromas.
-Bollinger: Created in 1829, this family house produces intense, vibrant, gourmet champagnes with a long finish.
-Egly ouriet: this house founded in 1945 exploits 10 ha of vineyards. Its champagnes express a beautiful complexity and power with a correctness of mouth and a brightness of fruits and mineral flavors.
-De Venoge: This house created in 1837 is now owned by BBC. It is known for its collection of old vintages of a unique style, with pleasant fruity fragrances, beautiful notes of fruit and minerality as well as a tonic and long mouth.
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