Champagne is the wine of celebration. Weddings, engagements, anniversaries, and promotions are all celebrated with champagne. That is not to mention New Years Eve, when some celebrate their survival of an interesting year, and others attempt to begin the new one in an optimistic state of mind.
Champagne has been the beverage of festivity, luxury, and status since the seventeenth century at the latest, when it was associated with the coronations of the kings of France. The secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles in champagne was originally a flaw in winemaking, because the pressures it created broke wine bottles and wasted wine.
Stronger wine bottles led to the preservation of bubbly wine, and wine makers began deliberately adding sugars to wine to promote the second fermentation that made it sparkle and foam. Real champagne comes from France, and only from a certain region of France, although there are many delicious sparkling beverages which are not technically champagne.
Dom Perignon, a famous winemaking monk, did not actually invent sparkling wine, though he apparently did invent the cages that keep the cork in the bottle in spite of the pressure exerted by the carbon dioxide gas in the wine. Nevertheless, everyone still enjoys his famous exclamation, “I am drinking stars!”
Champagne comes in three basic styles, sec, dry, and brut. These are subdivided into Brut Zero, Extra Brut, and Brut, the driest champagnes; and Extra Dry, Sec, Demi Sec, and Doux, the sweeter champagnes. Oddly, extra dry tastes rather sweet to many tongues. The most popular choice is probably Brut.
Champagnes are also classed by the kind of grapes that go into them. Blanc de blanc is created from white grapes, such as chardonnay. Blanc de noir is made from black grapes such as pinot noir, though the skins are not usually allowed to stain the wine. Rose, or pink, champagnes are usually made by adding a small amount of still red wine to the champagne.
It is impossible to list all the wonderful brands of sparkling wine. Moet and Chandon is an ancient producer that supplied wines to the French court through Madame Pompadour. It also supplied wines to Napoleon and his court. Its vineyards are found in California and Australia as well as in France. It is a part of the luxury conglomerate LVMH. Dom Perignon champagne is produced by Moet and Chandon.
Cristal is a famous prestige cuvee of champagne from Roederer. It was first created for Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and the bottle is said to be clear so that a bomb cannot be hidden inside. It costs more than $350 a pop. Laurent-Perrier is one vineyard that is still family owned. Their vintage champagne is Grand Siecle.
From California’s Napa Valley come sparkling wines that are served in the White House on high state occasions. Schramsburg produces artisan sparkling wines, including J. Schram and J. Schram brut rose. Iron Horse produces a non-vintage sparkler called Joy! and a delicious pale peach wine called Wedding Cuvee. These are only two of many fine American vineyards.
Spain makes sparkling wines too; often by a method they call Cava, since it is illegal in Europe to call their method champenoise. Italy produces spumante, and Germany Sekt. From South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand come many fine sparkling wines.
Whether or not the wine you drink is technically champagne, it still may be delicious, bubbly, and delightful. A well-chosen sparkling wine will add lightness and excitement to any celebration.