Definition of champagne:
Champagne is a white sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne area of France.
Following a European Commission ruling, the use of the word 'Champagne' for sparkling wines made is now restricted to the wines of the Champagne region only.
According to a legend, a blind French monk named Dom Pierre Perignon had the first taste of Champagne, sometime around 1700, when he stumbled upon a cask in which accidental fermentation had occurred. He tasted the bubbly product and exclaimed, "I am drinking stars!"
Dom Perignon, however, had no method for clearing the sediment from the bottle. The system of remuage and degorgement was developed in the early 19th century by the widow Clicquot (Veuve Clicquot) thus completing the system that is still used today.
Grapes and Production Process:
Three grapes can be used to make Champagne:
Champagne and other sparkling wines are produced by a technique known as Methode Champenoise.
In Methode Champenoise, there is more than one major fermentation. The first fermentation takes somewhere between 2 to 3 weeks. After the first fermentation, the wine is placed in very sturdy bottles (to withstand the internal pressure that will be a part of the process) along with sugar and yeast (Liqueur de Tirage). A temporary cap is then placed on the bottle. The sugar and yeast cause a new fermentation to occur. Since fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which can't escape from bottle, carbonated wine is produced.
This fermentation also creates new sediments, which must be removed. This is done by placing the wines on their sides on racks at about 45 degree down facing angle. Then every day the bottles are turned a bit (called 'remuage'), and eventually also tilted farther down.
After about 6 or 8 weeks, the sediment has now moved to the neck of the bottle, which the vintner then freezes. The bottle is opened and the force of the pressurized wine pushes the frozen sediment out of the bottle (this is called 'degorgement'). Since the bottle is now no longer full, wine and sugar (depending on what sweetness is desired) is added. The bottle is then given its permanent cork.
French Champagnes can be expensive - most basic lines start below HK$200 and can run up to HK$1,000 for a couple of chic cuvees -Other quality sparklers (i.e. California or Australia) abound in the HK$80 to HK$150 region (but they may use method other than the Methode Champenoise which has much lower costs).