17 May, 2002

French bubbly

...is not just champagne. Price per bottle varies from one euro to 20-30 euros and a lot more. Dont' worry, if you are amongst those who choose the champagne: The world really is fair. You get the quality you pay for.

Last night we did another part of our winetasting course. The theme of the first part of the evening was French sparklers. We tasted 10 different ones, amongst them two champagnes, some crémants and some others.

The interesting part of course was whether the tasters - us, almost all working with wine or vines, vignerons, teachers in tasting, one buyer and the apprentice, me - would be able to find the champagnes amongst the others.

Four ways to make bubbly
One of the decisive explanations whether a bottle of bubbly cost one or 20 euros is, how the bubbles entered the bottle in the first place. On top of that, add how long the bubbles have spent in the bottle before you'll find it in the shops.

The bubbles are born in different ways:

  • 1. Vins gazéfies: Still wine with carbonic acid added.
    Example: Some sparkling wines.
  • 2. Cuve close: Still wine, where sugar and yeast is added in a completely closed container. The second fermentation takes place here, and the bubbly wine will be transferred to bottles afterwards.
    Eksempler: Some sparkling wines.
  • 3. Méthode rurale/ancestrale: Orginal method, the bubbles originate from sugar left from the first fermentation, stopped by cold weather. It naturally fermentates for a second time, and the bubbles arrive.
    Examples: Vin de Blanquette, Blanquette de Die, AOC Gaillac.
  • 4. Méthode traditionelle: In Champagne also called Méthode champenoise. Sugar and yeast is added to the still wine, transferred to the bottle, where it fermentates for the second time. The bottle mature: At least 12 months for crémants, at least 15 months for non vintage champagnes and at least 36 months for vintage champagnes.
    Examples: Champagne, Crémant d'Alsace, Bourgogne, Loire, Limoux, Die, Bordeaux and Jura.
Industrial or traditional The cheapest bottles are produced in an entirely industrial way, made of cheap grapes. The more expensive bottles are made of good grapes and following traditional methods. The choise of method and quality of grapes will reflect in the complexity of the wine, the character of the bubbles and their pleasureness, the length of the taste. The sight itself is almost enough to recognize the cheap and bad wines, that does not have much more colour than plain water. Almost, because in life there is always at least one exception from the rule. A Clairette de Die, that did not get a very warm welcome from the champenois, but it certainly met the requirements you should expect from it, our teacher explained. Since the Clairette de Die is a warm wine (from Southern France) and therefore without acidity and a lot of sugar. You just don't get much further away from what a champagne is sought to be, and that is the overall reference and criteria of succes for the tasters this evening. So, of course they did not appreciate the Clairette de Die at first. The cheaper wines typically mainly smell and taste flowers and fruits (primary notes), and have no traces from the soils, where the vines grow (terroir) or the notes, you achieve in wines, when they fermentate (secondary notes) and mature (tertiary). These you typically find in expensive bottles, the best champagnes and the best crémants. This is also where you find the most pleasant bubbles. The very cheap fizz leaves a sensation similar to soft drinks with alcohol. Sparkling wines that have achieved their bubbles in the ancient way of a naturally occurring fermentation will contain less bubbles and a lower percentage of alchohol. A brut for all of us So, the champagnes were recognized amongst the ten other bottles. But I may reveal that no one felt quite sure, that they would be able to. Also there was quite a bit of doubt about a bottle that turned out to be a Blanquette de Limoux. Champagne or not? It was good, but it was no ordinary bottle, but a special prestige with a maturation of 24 months and - I suppose - grapes that were better than normally. So if you want to do a fair comparison with champagne, you choose a prestige bottle instead of a non vintage with 15 months of maturation. In the end the champagne, that was up against the Blanquette was discovered. The first champagne was even more difficult and generally not very appreciated. It was quite interestingly revealed to be one of the most exported bruts. This particular brand is not so big in France. Personally I found it very uninteresting, but in general there is a very big range in the taste of customers, so I am quite sure, that both bottles eventually find happy and satisfied buyers and tasters. We tried champagne, Clairette de Die, the sparkling wine of the supermarket Leclerc, the sparkling wines of Saumur and Vouvray, Crémant de Bourgogne and d'Alsace and Blanquette de Limoux. List of sparkling wines

No comments: