Celebrating the arrival of the third millennium with pomp and circumstance is occupying the minds of millions.
Only a few precious weeks are left to acquire the traditional celebration wine- Champagne.
Hotels and restaurants have been procuring champagnes for some time now, and there are still some from the previous year. But not to worry they are still in good condition, providing storage facilities were adequate.
Those planning to celebrate at home should rush to the LCBO stores, especially to Vintages section and acquire their bubblies before it is too late. It may be worth pointing out that all sparkling wines are not born equal. Champagne is considered by most experts and connoisseurs to be fist among equals, and accordingly, all manufacturers have been producing their finest for the millennium.
The difference between sparkling wines and champagne lies in the fact that there is only a small region located north-east of Paris that may legitimately call its sparkling wines champagne. Here, the soil contains a lot of chalk and enjoys a cool climate, thus “ terroir “, as the French call the combination of soil and climate, becomes a determining factor.
While the two Champagnards, Dom Ruinart and Dom Perignon are credited with the invention of this unique and laborious production method, the technique can be duplicated anywhere in the world. There is no secret and many manufacturers both elsewhere in France and in the world use the Champagne method, but the resulting product may not be called champagne, and it does not taste the same.
Beside the complicated and time-consuming way Champagnards employ, there are many other ways to producing sparkling wines. The Champagne method is labour intensive, and requires four to five years from harvest to shipping.
This has always been an expensive wine, and will continue to be.
A less expensive method of production the transfer technique which involves the induction of the second
fermentation in large bottles and filtering the wine into regular ( 750 ml ) containers.
Charmat, a French chemist, invented the method called after him, and which yields satisfactory results at low cost. It induces the second fermentation in a glass-lined and enforced tank. The resulting sparkling wine is bottled under pressure leaving fermentation residue in the tank.
Injection of carbon dioxide and aging is yet another sparkling wine production technique that results in still less expensive wines, and the least costly technique of all employs the simplest means which require injecting carbon dioxide into the wine.
A fine sparkling wine possesses a refined almost ethereal texture, and very fine numerous, and persistent bubbles.
Inexpensive bubblies lose their fizz within seconds after pouring, especially if the glass happens to be inappropriate.
Serving sparkling wine calls for special tulip-shaped glasses that help prolong effervescence. These glasses are long stemmed and delicate requiring special care.
With the possible exception of vintage champagnes, sparkling wines do not require further aging, nor do they benefit from it.
All sparkling wines are manufactured and thus undergo several steps of manipulation.
The Champagne method requires several manual processes and is the longest and most expensive of all. In Champagne the product is generally blended to achieve consistency wine aficionados expect from their favourite tipple, but when the fruit quality was exceptional, a “ vintage “ is declared. The vintage appears on the bottle by means of a neck label and vintage champagnes generally a little more than their regular “ brethren’.
Some champagne brands such as Dom Perignon, Dom Ruinart, Salon just to name a few are only produced when the vintage is good enough to be declared a VINTAGE.
Sparkling wines can be bone dry (brut sauvage ), extra dry ( sec ), dry, demi-sec, and sweet ( doux ).
Champagne was the preferred libation of Russian nobility army before the 1917 revolution, and many producers concentrated their efforts to creating wines that pleased the palates of the market. Roederer, Krug, Perrier-Joeut, and Moet et Chandon are a few that come to mind.
After the lucrative Russian market literally disappeared overnight, champagne producers had to refocus their marketing efforts to France, the United Kingdom and the U S A. Fortunately their efforts have been successful, and today after France, the United Kingdom the U S A, Germany and Italy are large export markets.
Canada’s champagne consumption hovers around a little more than one million bottles; this can be partially explained by high prices.
The success of champagne houses prompted many other countries to produce their own version. Germany, Italy, Spain, the U S A, Australia and Canada successfully manufacture and market sparkling wines.
Most Spanish producers are located in San Sadurni di Noya, some 50 Km north of Barcelona, and have been very successful in producing inexpensive wines by the champagne method. Some of the producers are :
Codorniu, Freixenet, Segura Viudas, Perellada, and Rovellat. All export appreciable quantities to a number of countries.
German producers range from expensive from expensive to very affordable. Deinhard, Kupferberg, Furst von Metternich are only a few of the quality oriented “ sekt “ manufacturers. German sparkling wines, even if they are manufactured according to the champagne method, must be called ‘ Sekt “ as agreed upon in the treaty after World War I.
Italy is best known for its Asti Spumante, literally the sparkling wine of Asti; it tends to be aromatic and mostly sweet. Of late Prosecco produced in Veneto has become the preferred sparkling wine of millions in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the U S A, and Canada.
California and New York State produce and market millions of bottles . Some of the famous brands are : Dr. K. Frank’s Brut, Gloria – Ferrer, Mumm Napa, Roederer, Schramsberg, Korbell and Cornell.
Recently , French and Spanish sparkling wine houses purchased land and planted vineyards with varieties most suitable to producing fine quality. Roederer, Mumm and Freixenet are only a few that come to mind.
Canada’s sparkling wine production can be traced to early 1940’s. Bright’s President used to be the most popular but today many other wineries both in Ontario and British Columbia produce and market well made sparkling wiens. Soem use the more elaborate champagne mehtode, others prefer Charmat.
Hillebrand, Chateau des Charmes, Inniskillin and Colio are some of the better known producers in Ontario; they vint wines ranging from very dry to sweet.
Of all sparkling wine manufacturers champagne houses are the most sophisticated and offer the widest range.
They are more than 1000 producers but only a few market their wines worldwide. Most small firms a re happy to sell to Parisians who visit them regularly ( Reims is only 140 Km north-east of Paris )
Some of the better known manufacturers are:
Bollinger, was made famous by “ Madame “ who was known in England as “ the Bollie “. Located in Ay ( a small town close to Epernay ), 70 per cent of the grapes the firm needs comes from their extensive vineyards. A reputable and consistently fine producer, Bollinger exports to many countries including Canada.
Deutz : Originally this fine champagne house started operations as Deutz et Geldermann. Since Roederer’s purchase of the firm Geldermann has been dropped. Also located in Ay, Deutz uses almost exclusively its own grapes, thus has access to a huge stock from which to blend. Deutz enjoys a well-deserved fine reputation amongst champagne connoisseurs. The firm exports to Ontario and Quebec.
Nicolas Feuillatte has been in the market for a long time. In 1986 Mr Feuillatte went into partnership with Le Centre de Vinicole de la Champagne; it boasts 4000 members owning approximately 4300 acres.
Stylish wines are being produced to the tune of two million bottles. Vintages, LCBO’s fine wine division, brings in Nicolas Feuillatte from time to time.
Charles Heidsieck is best known in North America as “ Champagne Charlie “. Established in 1851, Charles
Heidsieck has been supplying the Canadian market for a long time. The firm has a particular style appealing to most North American palates.
Piper – Heidsieck was founded in 1834 by Christian Heidsieck in Reims, now owned by Remy-Cointreau. The house is known for balanced, youthful and clean-tasting wines worth discovering
Krug enjoys an excellent and well-deserved reputation amongst connoisseurs. It produces only 40,000 cases and pays meticulous attention to a well-defined, refined style. Krug is testimony to excellence. The firm exports to Quebec and Ontario Although Krug wines are more expensive than their competitors all their wines represent excellent value.
Moet et Chandon is the best known of all with a production of two million cases. The company offers a wide range of products including Dom Perignon which was introduced in 1935 to honour the best known creator of champagne.Moet et Chandon is part of LVMH ( Louis Vuitton, Moet-Hennessy ) and possesses considerable resources to produce and market fine wines.
G.H Mumm was founded in 1827 and owns one of the best – known labels in the industry – Cordon Rouge. It owns 500 hectares of vineyards and buys from long tern contract growers. Mumm is export-oriented and concentrates mostly on the North American market. Practically all provinces carry at least the Cordon Rouge.
Perrier-Jouet, known as PJ , has been producing fine champagnes since 1811. The introduction of the Belle Epoque hand-painted bottle in 1970 has been a huge marketing success. The house is well known for its consistent, refined and elegant style.
Pol Roger enjoys an excellent reputation and was the preferred brand of Winston Churchill who consumed his fair share. Pol Roger crafts elegant, classic champagnes. Winston Churchill brand, created to honour the famous politician is based on Pinot Noir and ages very well. Pol Roger wines are exported to Canada and well represented in all provinces.
Pommery still follows the motto of Madame Louise Pommery “ Quality First “; she took over from her husband in1858 . The house still, crafts and markets outstanding champagnes. Pommery is well represented in Ontario,Quebec, and BC with a number of fine sparklers.
Louis Roederer has been a leader on many fronts including the introduction of the first prestige cuvee Cristal and challenging Veuve Cliquot in Russia before the Revolution.Louis Roederer still produces old-style Pinot Noir based champagnes capable of aging superbly. Roederer Cristal was specifically crafted for the pre-revolution Russian market, and enjoys, still today, an outstanding, well-deserved reputation. The firm exports to Canada whenever Vintages, the fine wine division of the
L C B O imports Roederer Cristal the whole shipment disappears within a few days even though the price is well above regularly priced champagnes.
Taittinger started in 1931, but enjoys an excellent reputation due to its devotion to quality. Blanc de Blancs
champagnes of Taittinger have been crafted since the inception and revered by those who like this style. Taittinger exports to many countries including Canada
Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin, an excellent, well-established and respected house, has been exporting to Canada for a long time, and is well represented in all provinces. Veuve Cliquot, the widow, was forced to take over the management of the company at a young age . She proved to be formidable marketer, excellent manager and inventor. She is credited with the invention of the “ pupitre “ ( the champagne riddling board ) still used today by many quality-oriented champagne houses.
The lively acidity of all dry sparkling wines make them a perfect match with lighter cuisine. Whether shellfish or salad or both, champagne acts as a perfect starter, and for light main courses it is generally an excellent match.
Sweet champagnes are best with deserts of which there are many invented by chefs in the employ of champagne houses.
Of course sparkling wines are best known for their celebratory reputation. There is no better way to toast or welcome any important event including weddings, anniversaries, the birth of a child, a new year, and why not a millennium!