Discover more from The Grape Gatsby
The Night They Invented Champagne
Drinking the Stars ...
Once I was asked what wine I would want if I were stranded on an island. My answer was then, and still would be, champagne. In this, my last post of 2022, I’m not reviewing a book. Instead, I’m telling you a story!
Once upon a time, there was a young, Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon. Dom Pérignon was the cellar master for the Abbey at Hautvillers, near the French town of Épernay, located in Champagne. One night, he was making wine for the Abbey and something went wrong. The wine unexpectedly had bubbles. Dom Pérignon did not want the bubbles; he thought they were destroying his wine.
But then he tasted it. Upon that first taste, he exclaimed for the others to hear: “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”
Yes, it’s a myth, and like all myths, there are kernels of truth. You can find plenty of articles debunking this story, but to be honest, I like it! I love the idea of “drinking the stars,” although the phrase dates to a marketing campaign in the 1800s.
For as much as the story is false, Dom Pérignon, in his quest to remove the bubbles, made great advances in perfecting the method of creating champagne (méthode champenoise).
Champagne undergoes two fermentations. After the first traditional fermentation and bottling, yeast and a bit of rock sugar are added to the bottle. The bottle, now sealed with a cap, ages for a minimum of 1.5 years. Once the bottle has reached maturity, remuage occurs. During remuage, the bottles are slowly turned almost upside down so that the residual yeast ends up in the neck of the bottle. The bottlenecks are then quick-frozen and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the residue and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide. There are many winemakers that will add a small dosage (sugar syrup) at this point to maintain the level of liquid within the bottle.
The bottles are corked and caged, and often aged for a few months to many years before they are released to the market.
Back in Dom Pérignon's day, cellars would lose around 20% of their wine to exploding bottles, as the pressure from the bubbles would be just too much. It was Dom Pérignon's advancements in refermentation that helped bring about the champagne we know today.
I love that champagne is such a wonderful beverage, inspiring myths about its creation and songs.Take a minute and watch Seth MacFarlane singing the classic “The Night They Invented Champagne.”
Some Recommended Bubbles
I tasted several sparkling wines this week. Some of them were simply terrible. I found two bottles that I believe are absolutely wonderful and are at an affordable price point. Both wines receive full happy faces from me.
Roederer Estate Brut*, Anderson Valley, CA ($26, 12.5% AbV) Non-Vintage**
This sparkler is traditional, with a blend of 40% pinot noir and 60% chardonnay. Roederer Estate is the US winery of the French Champagne house, Louis Roederer. The wine is a light straw color. It is wonderfully dry. and very bread-y. Brut sparkling wine will often bring to mind a fantastic, homemade loaf of bread. It’s the yeast that we taste, but it's an exceptionally good thing. There’s an earthy component in a good Brut that is greatly enjoyable. The Roederer also has nice fruit flavors of pear, apple blossom, and a subtle spice on the finish. I paired it with popcorn and it was perfect.
Ridgeview Estate Cavendish Brut* Sparkling Wine, England, 2014 (~$40, 12% AbV) What? England? I know. I didn’t believe it either. Stan, at my favorite local wine shop, convinced me and you know what? This was my favorite of the sparklers I tasted this week! This is a traditional blend of the three champagne grapes: 41% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier, 29% chardonnay. It’s a golden color and your mouth feels “full.” There’s substance to this sparkler. It has a lot of citrus, specifically orange and lemon. With all that citrus, I certainly could have aged this for a while to deepen the flavors, but it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s drink the sparkling wine!
What to pair with sparkling wine? Personally, I think every what and when are perfect pairings for a sparkler. But if you’re going low-key, I’d opt for lightly buttered popcorn, grilled cheese, and/or potato chips. I know those don’t seem fancy enough, but you can pair champagne with anything and these pairings are easy, fun, and just work!
* Sparkling wine has a range of dry to sweet. You’ll find Nature Brut to be the driest (least sweet) and Doux is the sweetest. Brut is the most common and is more dry than sweet. Don’t write off the sweet wines though. Everything has a time and place and the sweeter sparkling wines pair nicely with fruit and other desserts - or as dessert themselves.
** When a harvest produces absolutely amazing grapes, and thus amazing grape juice, then a sparkling wine is given a vintage. A non-vintage will often cost less because it is a blend of two or more years of juice.
Thank you everyone! I started this adventure in October, and I’ve had so much fun with it! I hope you have a perfect New Year’s Eve and a fantastic year ahead!
Share the love with your friends and subscribe if you’re new here! (Hi! 👋🏻)