What’s the big swizz? Top 10 did-you-knows on Champagne

Along the lines that 73% of all statistics are made up, I’m going to make a brash guess that there’ll be as much Champagne drunk tonight around the world as the other 364 days of the year put together.

So what’s the big swizz about the French fizz?

It used to intrigue me why people would happily splash out €40, €50, €100 on a bottle of bubbly when their normal spend on a bottle of plonk was a tenner. And then they’d make a ceremony of opening it, often popping their cork along with half the bottle pretending they were standing on a Formula 1 podium.

So to follow are our top 10 did-you-knows on Champagne. Some you might know already, but hopefully there’s a few that will help you appreciate this great delicacy all the more – and maybe prompt you to take the unopened bottle off the Lewis Hamilton wannabe tonight.

What you should know about Champagne

  1. Champagne is regulated by the AC (Appellation Controllee) system in France, the strict set of regulations and standards that dictate where, how and from what grapes Champagne is made.
  2. Champagne is almost always made from one or a blend of only three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.
  3. Dark skinned Pinot Noir is responsible for the colour in pink Champagne but can still produce crystal clear white Champagnes through removal of the skins prior to fermentation.
  4. The bubbles in Champagne are produced by a second fermentation of an already fermented still wine.
  5. The particular “méthode traditionnelle” of Champagne production involves performing this second fermentation in bottle, as opposed to in a tank. (It is this method that gives Champagne it’s tiny and long-lasting bubbles.)
  6. During the second fermentation, the process of riddling is used to move sediment to the neck of the bottle for removal prior to final corking. Many Champagne houses still perform this task manually, with every bottle individually inverted and shaken every day.
  7. One over-riding factor that makes Champagne unique is that the region itself is cold. This part of northern France is just about the limit for growing grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, yet Champagne manages it, with obviously stunning effect.
  8. Vintage Champagne is only made by the major Champagne houses 3 or 4 years every decade, depending on the grape-growing conditions that year, and only uses the produce of that year. Non-vintage (NV) Champagne is made every year to a consistent House style, and is made from a blend of multiple years’ produce held in reserve.
  9. There are three main zones at the heart of Champagne, each optimal for different grapes and producing different styles. However, the finest Champagne is almost always from a blend across regions, rather than single vineyards or zones.
  10. Sparkling wine attracts twice the government duty of regular wine in Ireland – currently a whopping €4.92 a bottle, on which VAT is added (another €1.06, so €5.98 before the check-out scanner has finished its blip).

Wishing you a happy and peaceful 2009 from all at Curious.

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