Champagne! What Royalty drink.
Champagne is not just for special occasions.
Champagne is a French sparkling wine. Many people use the term Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine but in the EU and other countries, it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it came from the Champagne wine region of France and is produced under the rules of the appellation. This alcoholic drink is produced from specific types of grapes grown in the Champagne region following rules that demand, among other things, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from designated places within the Champagne region, specific grape-pressing methods and secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to cause carbonation.
The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne in 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician, Christopher Merret, documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise, in 1662. Merret's discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers' technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength.
In France the first sparkling champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called "the devil's wine" (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded and corks popped. At the time, bubbles were considered a fault. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet to prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthode champenoise until the 19th century, about 200 years after Merret documented the process.
The 19th century saw an exponential growth in champagne production, going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850. In 2007, champagne sales hit an all-time record of 338.7 million bottles.
In the 19th century champagne was noticeably sweeter than the champagnes of today. The trend towards drier champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage before exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne was created for the British in 1876.
The grapes pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay are primarily used to produce almost all Champagne, but small amounts of pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane, and petit meslier are vinified as well. Only these specific grapes grown according to appellation rules on designated plots of land within the appellation may be used to make Champagne.
Champagne became associated with royalty in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The leading manufacturers made efforts to associate their Champagnes with nobility and royalty through advertising and packaging, which led to its popularity among the emerging middle class.
Types of Champagne
Most of the Champagne produced today is "Non-vintage", meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10–15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are favourable, some producers will make a vintage wine that must be composed of 100% of the grapes from that vintage year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage's harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne. This ensures a consistent style that consumers can expect from non-vintage Champagne that does not alter too radically depending on the quality of the vintage. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as "vintage" since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.
A cuvée de prestige is a proprietary blended wine usually a Champagne that is considered to be the top of a producer's range. Perhaps the first publicly available prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, Champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-range wine produced to the highest standards and priced accordingly was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876 but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar. Cristal was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage. In the last three decades of the 20th century, most Champagne houses followed these with their own prestige cuvées, often named after notable people with a link to that producer and presented in non-standard bottle shapes.
Blanc de noirs
A French term literally "white from blacks" or "white of blacks" for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. The flesh of grapes described as black or red is white; grape juice obtained after minimal possible contact with the skins produces essentially white wine, with a slightly yellower colour than wine from white grapes. The colour, due to the small amount of red skin pigments present, is often described as white-yellow, white-grey, or silvery. Blanc de noirs is often encountered in Champagne, where a number of houses have followed the lead of Bollinger's prestige cuvée Vieilles Vignes Françaises in introducing a cuvée made from either pinot noir, pinot meunier or a blend of the two, these being the only two black grapes permitted within the Champagne AOC appellation.
Blanc de blancs
A French term that means "white from whites", and is used to designate Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes or in rare occasions from Pinot blanc. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties.
"Pink Champagne" was a cheap, sweet version of sparkling wine made in the 1950s and early 1960s because the average American consumer at the time thought brut champagne was too dry, but it has been discontinued. Brut rose Champagnes came along in the 1990s, a version as dry as regular brut Champagne. They are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time, known as the saignée method, or more commonly, by adding a small amount of still pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée. Champagne is typically light in colour even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé Champagne is one of the few wines that allow the production of rosé by the addition of a small amount of red wine during blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible colour, allowing a constant rosé colour from year to year. It is popular in many countries and in high-end restaurants due to its soft yet sensitive taste, which is advantageous in food and wine pairing.
Just after disgorgement a "liqueur de dosage" - a blend of - most times- cane sugar and wine (sugar amounts up to 750 g/litre)- is added to adjust the levels of sugar in the Champagne when bottled for sale, and hence the sweetness of the finished wine. Today sweetness is generally not looked for per se, dosage is used to fine tune the perception of acidity in the wine. Wines labelled Brut Zero, more common among smaller producers have no added sugar and will usually be very dry with less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre in the finished wine. The following terms are used to describe the sweetness of the bottled wine:
Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per litre)
Brut (less than 12 grams)
Extra Dry (between 12 and 17 grams)
Sec (between 17 and 32 grams)
Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 grams)
Doux (50 grams)
Champagne is a passion of ours and we had to find a true aperitif style one to bring back and boy did we hit the mother load. Not only is it truly amazing it is also super rare!
Charles Mignon Premium Reserve Brut Champagne NV rated 97/100 is a super prestigious Champagne that has been given top honours among the upper most echelon of Champagne houses! It has also won over 150 top awards! It is a truly artisan house, now overseen by the current generation of the Mignon family, Guillaume and Manon, who as kids ran through the vineyards and played hide and seek in the cellars. On our research, checked via local retailers in France this sells on average for slightly more than Veuve Clicquot. That’s if you can find it!
The grapes used are 20% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay and 55% pinot meunier. The grapes are picked by hand, pressed and fermented in thermo-regulated stainless-steel vats. A work of precision to preserve the primary aromas and the imprint of the terroir. It is then aged in cellars at a constant temperature of 12° for 18 to 24 months.
So, what’s in the bottle? Immediately on pouring it you notice the incredibly fine bead which leads to a luxuriously creamy mouth feel. On the nose is apple, pear and a hint of stone fruit. On the palate is another blast of pear, some citrus notes and a trace of brioche. The acid leads to a fantastic burst but is kept in check by the perfect balance of sweetness and fine bead. It is a super finessey style only the finest Champagne houses seem to be able to muster. Nothing in your face about this. They tasted dozens and dozens of Champagnes and although they wanted to bring you back a couple, the Charles Mignon was just such a standout that it was all we needed! Don’t miss out on this rare glimpse into the artisan, historic world of French Champagne.
A few Popsy & JJ tips ...we used flutes in our video review, but you could certainly throw it in a nouveau style of champers glass if you’re feeling posh. This one could sit in the cellar for a few years but that won’t happen at our houses! With all its finesse, they matched it with fresh natural Sydney rock oysters with Tetsuya dressing on the side. What more could you need in life?!
Get this artisan Champagne for your home!