Category Archives: Champagne

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! While many will enjoy a special bottle and splendid dinner to ring in the New Year, the pop of a cork and all those delicious tiny bubbles will be part of the celebration too. bubbly

Champagne is an enigma, a white wine made from primarily red grapes. The actual invention of champagne is often attributed to a Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon. Which is not exactly accurate, he didn’t invent Champagne, he refined it. Among his many refinements was the perfect stopper for the wine previously known as “devil’s brew” since it kept exploding and sending the rags flying.  You see, before the cork and bale, the monks used rags to stopper the wine, hence the flying rags.

As in most regions in France, the Champagne region was first planted to the vine by the Romans. Later the monks took over the vineyards, the winemaking and nursing the community with wine – a healthier option than water at the time.  Wine and beer for that matter, were drunk by everyone, kings and commoners.

Champagne’s glamorous lifestyle began back in 1429. That’s when the first French king was crowned in Rheims Cathedral. Of course, Champagne was served as part of festivities and for every coronation thereafter. Other rulers saw the stars, Czar Nicholas ordered his Roederer Cristal by the boatload and we all know that Napoleon would arrive at Moet y Chandon for a tipple of Dom Pérignon before riding off to his next military campaign.

Today, there are 86,500 acres of vineyards producing 200 million bottles of Champagne every year. The increased demand for Champagne, combined with the meticulous process of production, from véraison to aging in vast cellars, has resulted in Champagne as a symbol of prestige and celebration all over the world.

It’s the attention to detail that makes Champagne one of the world’s most sought after beverages. That and the soil, the grapes, the climate and the labor intensive winemaking that make this wine so fine.

The method of making Champagne or Méthode Champenoise is complicated and long. And starts with the usual alcoholic fermentation. The wine then undergoes a second fermentation inside the bottle. Making the wine sparkling is the primary reason for this but along the way aromatics develop in concert with those tiny bubbles.

By law, the harvested grapes must have enough sugar to produce 10 to 11 percent alcohol. Champagne is the only region that does not permit mechanical harvesting. Every single grape is picked by hand. Thousands of hands from all over France descend upon Champagne at harvest time. Picking starts at dawn and avoids the excessive sun at midday to avoid spontaneous fermentation.

Then the grapes are brought to the press room which is usually very close to the vineyards. This first pressing is, of course, the best. It’s the cleanest with no color or tannins from the skin or seeds. The statutory level for the first press is 8,800 pounds of grapes, with a maximum 670 gallons collected. A second compression is allowed and provides 130 gallons.

Fermentation vats are predominantly stainless steel with a few oak barrels of various sizes scattered here and there around the region. When the wine has finished the first fermentation, sometime in March or April, the assemblage begins. This is the winemaker’s most challenging task, tasting the blends of the different wines from different vats to find the ones that will make up that final house blend.

To the final blend, a liqueur de tirage is added. The tirage is a blend of carefully constructed wine, sugar and yeast. This is the stuff that will ensure those tiny bubbles. Once the tirage is added, the bottle is capped, and taken to the cellar and placed in pupitres which are wooden racks with holes in them. The bottles are placed at an angle so the top is down and the punt end is up.

Champagne-RemuerA remuer rotates every bottle with a quick one quarter turn at least four times a day to shake the spent yeast down into the neck of the bottle. Remuers are being replaced by machines in the larger cellars but the technique is important to the making of Champagne. This goes on for about 18 months.

The last major step is disgorgement and corking the bottle. To disgorge the dead yeast cells in the bottle, the top of the bottle neck is frozen and the bottle cap removed.  All the pressure that has built up sends the plug of spent yeast cells flying.

The next step, the wine has its final dosage, another sugar and wine solution, and then it is corked. The bale holds the cork in place. The label goes on, it’s boxed up and distributed throughout the world to celebrate births, weddings, birthdays, Mother’s Day, promotions, ship launches, the Seahawks repeating, and ringing in every New Year.

As you’ve read, Champagne is complex and celebratory.  Many books have been written about its deliciousness. My favorite is by Don & Petie Kaldstrup, Champagne, How the world’s most glamorous wine triumphed over war and hard times. It’s highly entertaining and solves the mystery of why there are so many Champagne houses with German and Dutch surnames.

Cheers to you! May your New Year be bright and bubbly!

Weekly wind defined: Sparkling wine

Mary writes:

Notice how we’ve been on a sparkling wine kick as of late? It seems we just can’t quite get those bubbles out of our heads.

This week’s definition is quite simple: Sparkling Wine.

Sparkling wines have significant levels of carbon dioxide which translates to those tiny bubbles that tickle your tongue. A second natural fermentation in a bottle, called méthode champenoise, produces sparkling wines.

Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. Every other French sparkling wine made outside the borders of Champagne is a Mousseux or Crémant.

The more common Crémants are from Burgundy where the same grapes that grow in Champagne are grown in Burgundy. Other areas that produce Crémant from other grapes are Bordeaux (Semilion), Alsace (Pinot Gris), Loire (Chenin Blanc) and  Limoux (Mauzac).

Weekly wine defined: Perlage

Brynn writes:

If you Google (or Bing, whichever search engine you prefer) the word Perlage you’ll find an assortment of search results, some in English, others Italian.

Simply put, perlage means bubbles. But the Internet search also called up a few commercial entities that are capitalizing on the name, using it to sell a wine-saving device that restores CO2 to an opened bottle of bubbly. According to one site, if you open a bottle and can’t finish it, you don’t have to worry about it going flat. Just use their product to fill the headspace of the bottle with pressurized CO2 which helps retain the bubbles and keep oxygen from making the wine go flat.

Supposedly the wine stays good for up to 14 days. Sounds similar to the Vin-Vac that allows you to pump out unwanted air from a bottle of wine to preserve it for longer periods. We have a couple of those and they do a great job.

The next time you’re drinking bubbly, if you want to sound smart make a comment about how superb the wine’s “perlage” is.

Weekly wine defined: Riddling

Last week we defined Méthode Champenoise.

This week we define a term that was used in that definition: Riddling.

To make good wine using the Méthode Champenoise, bottles must be riddled. While the second fermentation is creating those tiny bubbles in the bottle, it also produces sediment. That sediment needs to be removed from the wine and is disgorged after it is riddled into the neck of the bottle by riddlers, who by the way, are no threat to Batman.

What the Ridler does is give a shake and a turn to each bottle in a special rack known as a pupitre, over a period of several weeks until the bottle is upside down and all the sediment is in the neck. Once done totally by hand, gyropalettes now perform this essential procedure.

Weekly wine defined: Methode Champenoise

Méthode Champenoise is the process of making a sparkling wine with the same method used in the cellars of Champagne, France.

It’s a secondary fermentation inside the bottle that creates those tiny bubbles we all love so much. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process.

Sparkling wine starts out as a still wine, either red or white. And then it is blended usually to produce a consistent house cuveé.

The next step is to add the dosage which is more sugar and yeast. The bottle is capped not corked and put in a riddling rack on its side neck down.

For the next two to four years, the riddler’s job is to turn each and every bottle a quarter turn four times a day. The action shakes the spent yeast cells down into the neck of the bottle.

Weekly wine defined: Growers Champagne

Brynn writes:

While interviewing David LeClaire, co-owner and general manager of Seattle’s Wine World, for the article we wrote on what sparkling wines to serve for New Years, he asked if I knew the term “Grower Champagne”?


Since it’s a term I’d not heard before, I’m guessing it’s one you might not know either. So I’ll define it.

Grower champagne: This is the wine made by champagne houses that is artisanal compared to than the mass production of the product that pops up on our grocery store shelves. Terroir is the focus of these wines — the growers that own the vineyards source the grapes for the wine from a single village, instead of combining the juice from grapes grown across the region.

These wines will be different every year based on the growing conditions, whereas the mass produced wine from the region will be consistently similar year after year. Grower champagnes are released younger than those that come from the larger Champagne houses, likely because the smaller entities don’t have the money to store the wine and age it.

LeClaire described the grower champagnes as having the most character. He said they are “perfect for the enthusiast, for someone who wants to try something new. This is for the geeks.” These wines won’t be found at Fred Meyer or Safeway, you’ll need to go into a quality wine shop. Prices start around $40. LeClaire said his favorites include Gaston Chiquet and Theirry Triolet.

Sparkling suggestions for New Year’s Eve

By now you’ve probably secured your New Year’s Eve plans, but have you finalized what you’ll be drinking?

If you’re like most Americans, Champagne — sparkling wine if it’s made in America, Prosecco if it’s from Italy, or cava if from Spain — is not something you drink every day.

Instead it’s reserved for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve. (Incidentally, in Italy and Spain people drink their sparklers on a daily basis, much like most Seattleites drink coffee every day).

Seeing as we’re not in Italy or Spain, chances are you don’t drink Champagne (or sparkling wine, Prosecco, cava, et al.) except for once or twice a year. If that’s the case, the thought of selecting a bottle, or two, or three, to ring in the New Year may not top your list of favorite things to do.

That’s where we come in. We called David LeClaire, founder and general manager of Wine World and Spirits, located just off Interstate-5 in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. LeClaire is also a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Needless to say, he knows wine.

So what does LeClaire recommend for this year’s celebration? That depends on what you’re looking for, he said.

If you’re planning a party for a number of guests (read: wide range of palates and likes and dislikes), LeClaire recommends serving Italy’s Prosecco.

“Prosecco, to me, is one of the best toasting Champagnes you can get,” he said.

The price is nice too — typically a Prosecco in the $9 to $10 range is going to be good. And it’s widely available.

This wine is favorable for large groups because it has a touch more sweetness to it, without being too sweet. Usually it’s liked by everyone.

If dry wine is more your style, consider cava over France’s Champagne. It’s cheaper, while still a quality wine.

General rule of thumb: look for wines in the $10 range, LeClaire said. Anything below $10 may cause you to regret your purchase, especially if you overindulge this year. That’s because sparkling wines in the $6 range have likely been injected with carbon dioxide, which produces the bubbles and often the headache.

“The saying is: The bigger the bubbles, the bigger the headache,’” LeClaire said.

The smaller the bubbles, the better the wine. During fermentation wine produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of yeast eating sugar in the grape juice. For non-sparkling wine gas is allowed to escape; to make it tingle on your tongue, the gas is kept in the bottle, producing the bubbles.

If you’re looking for bubbly from France, but don’t want to pay the markup on a wine from Champagne, consider one from the Alsace region that straddles France and Germany.

These wines are available in the $15 price range and are very elegant, LeClaire said. Unlike Champagne, which is made from chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, Alsatian sparklers are made with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, producing a softer wine. One brand to look for is Lucien Albrecht, which retails between $15 to $20.

A handful of Washington and Oregon wineries also have jumped into the sparkling pool. That includes Yakima’s Treveri Cellars, which was featured in 2011 at the White House for its State Department holiday receptions and was served earlier this year at the James Beard Foundation dinner. Treveri specializes in sparkling wines, offering Pinot Gris, riesling, Gewürztraminer, chardonnay and even Syrah. You can find most of its wines between $14 and $19.

If all this talk about bubbles has your head spinning — and you haven’t even had a sip yet! — don’t stress. Go to your local wine shop or grocery store and ask the wine steward for help. If you’re in Seattle, stop by Wine World, they’ve got wines you won’t find anywhere else, and staff eager to help.

Tell the steward how much you want to spend, what you typically drink and let them do the work. As LeClaire pointed out, most people who ask for advice will walk away with a better wine than what they would have selected on their own.

Weekly wine defined: Punt

To punt or not to punt, that is the question.

Punt is an option in football. It could be getting a sticky problem off your desk and onto some other desk, or as it relates to wine, it is the indentation found in the base of a bottle, particularly those holding sparkling wine.

The reason for the punt is to take the pressure off the sides of the bottle. Sparkling wine is under an enormous amount of pressure, anywhere from 60 to 90 pounds per square inch.

The depth of the punt can sometimes relate to quality, with better quality wines having a deeper punt. In wine circles, we call it good glass.

We’re popping the bubbly for Christmas brunch!

A memorable Christmas brunch can only be served with bubbly! It’s celebratory, it’s designed to make you grin and we’ll be honest, what other wine can you sip with breakfast that is acceptable?

That’s why for Ann Vogel’s Italian Baked Egg Casserole recipe bubbly is our answer for the perfect wine pairing.

The vegetables included in this recipe have us yearning for a wine with some body to it, which is why we recommend a Rosé or a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

Roederer Estate Brut Rosé NV ($26) is located in Mendocino and owned by Champagne producer Louis Roederer of Cristal fame. This winery is located in northern California’s cool Anderson Valley.

Its tiny bubbles, biscuit aromas and strawberry-flavored Rosé is a real charmer.

If you’d prefer the sparkling Shiraz from Australia, we recommend Shingleback’s “Black Bubbles” Sparkling Shiraz from McLaren Vale. It’s a blend of several vintages, like most non-vintage bubblies.

This is a darkly colored, deep purple Shiraz. Blackberry and blueberry flavors are lush and sweet and are balanced by the acidity.

For the Spiced Praline French Toast Breakfast Casserole recipe, all that sweetness demands some acidity.

We’ve come to the conclusion the best wine for this dish is a Mimosa. A nice dry Cava from Spain for around $8 and a freshly squeezed juicy orange or tangelo will set this one off nicely.

Or you could bring this celebration to another level by trying this recipe for Morning Glory Mimosa, made with pineapple-flavored vodka. The combination of citrus, bubbles and exotic pineapple have enough acidity and sweetness to cozy up to those praline French toasts.

  • 1 bottle of sparkling wine
  • 1 carton of orange juice
  • Pineapple vodka


Pour 2 ounces of chilled sparkling wine into a Champagne flute and allow bubbles to settle. Pour 2 ounces of orange juice into flute, stir gently. Top with half a shot of pineapple vodka, stir gently.

Merry Christmas!

Pop the bubbly for this raw oyster dish

The pairing for this tasty fresh raw oyster dish is easy. Go with the wine that you “cook” with (the oysters aren’t really raw with all that acidity from the vinegars, but real close).

This recipe calls for Champagne Mumm, which comes in several flavors. We recommend using one that best suits your palate.

This specific Champagne also has some history tied to it. It’s the story of the cordon rouge, or red ribbon, which started with winemaker Georges Hermann Mumm.

He was driven by the motto “only the best”. In the late 1800s he decorated his champagne with a red silk ribbon. As a result, today any good Frenchman knows the red silk ribbon is a symbol of the Grand Cordon de la Légion d’Honneur.

As we said earlier, Champagne Mumm has several styles to choose from. The Cordon Rouge is a brut made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier grapes. The Brut Rosé has a rich fruitiness and pleasant roundness from the Pinot Noir grapes used. If you’re a red wine lover, try this one.

The Demi-Sec style is for those who enjoy a bit of sweetness in their bubbly. There is a creaminess to this wine that we think would contrast nicely with the vinegars in Vogel’s raw oyster dish.

These Champagnes range in price from $30 to $38.

If you’re hesitant to use a Champagne of this price range in your recipe, don’t worry, Mumm also makes a wine out of California called Mumm Napa.

Very similar in style and about $10 to $20 less in price, this wine would also suit this recipe perfectly. We recommend the highly awarded Brut Prestige or the Brut Rosé.