Champagne Cheers!

I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not - Coco Chanel

The wrong Champagne on the map
After a really long wait, we finally made a visit to this small town that claims to be the sole producer of Champagne in the world. In 2014, we did try to get on a road trip to Champagne but ended up going to Champagné, some 300km from the place of our interest. Champagné was a small village, a French beauty nevertheless, with zero English speakers. We, with our Indian accents, could not make anyone in the countryside understand the fact that we were in search of vineyards and that we were there for some champagne tasting. To our respite, we did find a tourist, out of the blue, who explained to us that the place we were looking for was towards north of Paris near Reims. It was truly disheartening to be honest and now visiting Reims has brought an end to this sad saga, at last!

Reims is about 2-hour drive from Paris. It is a small town with several Champagne production units. Reims has one of the most helpful tourism offices in France. If you are lucky, like we were, you might just get a free Champagne tasting experience. Tourism office is centrally located and it is within 30mins walking distance from all major attractions and eating joints in the town. 

We did not book any Champagne tour in advance so we visited Champagne Taittinger as it was flexible with the booking formalities. Most of the population in our tour were Americans with their really loud and evident accent. We were possibly the only Asians (even with the enormous Indian and Chinese population) in the tour which was a bit strange!

Coming back to my bubbly Champagne experience, I thought it would be good to jot down a few key elements about the drink. There are primarily five types of Champagne produced in the region as below:

Cosnard Emmanuel's promotion at the Tourism office
Brut - Dry drink with a very minimal sweetness (sugar less than 15 grams/lt.) This is the most common kind that is usually found

Blanc de Blanc - These are made exclusively from Chardonnay grape. This is a French term that means "white from whites"

Blanc de Noir - These are made solely from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a mix of the two. The name literally translates to "white from black"

Brut rosé - Also called "Pink Champagne" is usually prepared with the addition of small portions of Pinot Noir during Brut Champagne blending

Demi-sec - This is a sweet variety of Champagne rich in sugar usually between 30 and 50 grams/lt

I had a chance to taste 4 of the above and my personal favorite is 'Blanc de Blancs' :-). Types of Champagne also vary with the amounts of sugar in the bottle.

Three types of grapes are used for Champagne preparation - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay is the most used grape and kind of stands out as a signature for French sparkling wine, Champagne. 

The tour was for an hour in a cellar at 8-10 degrees Celsius. It was warm outside around 30 degrees and you will experience shivering cold when wandering around the Champagne cellars. Apparently, a spontaneous bursting of the bottles is not uncommon in these cellars causing a chain reaction of an explosion of the bottles. This mysterious process is popularly known as “The Devil’s Wine”. We happened to witness the burst bottles and not thankfully the bursting itself!

Champagne cellars
The tour guide explained to us how there were comprehensive rules and regulations for all wine production in the region – growing places, types of grapes, pruning, bottling etc. A wine has to meet the set requirements to be labelled as Champagne. An interesting point to note is that most of the Champagnes are best to be consumed within a year of purchase.

Méthode Champenoise is the traditional Champagne making procedure. After skillfully selecting the grapes, they are set through a fermentation process – like in a typical wine making. For Champagne process, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle with a few grams of yeast to develop carbon dioxide in the solution. This gives the ‘pop’ and ‘bubbles’ when a Champagne cork is opened. Refer to this link for details on Champagne making that includes the following steps – Press, First Fermentation, Assemblage, Second Fermentation, Remuage, Ageing, Disgorgement and Dosage. 

After the whisky tasting from our Scotland trip, Champagne making shows an entirely different way to produce another extraordinary drink. And now, I look forward to experiencing more of Burgundy, Cognac and Bordeaux soon! J

I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.
-Winston Churchill


Soumya said...

Good experience

Vandita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vandita said...

With your experience in travel and taste you can become a connoisseur..

Very nice description. Makes me feel I'm traveling, with you as my guide.

Really enjoyed reading this

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