French Wine Scholar program: Champagne

French Wine Scholar program: Champagne

Wine wisdom from the Champagne region:
• The Champagne terroir exists nowhere else but Champagne.
• No more than 80% of a year’s harvest can be used each year. 20% must be held in reserve to maintain the house style in the blend year over year.
• Champagne represents the most northerly of all the French wine regions.
• The two primary towns housing the largest champagne houses are Reims and Epernay (about 20 minutes apart by either car or train).

For 600 years, the city of Reims and its cathedral were the site where 27 French kings were crowned. But because of its important as a political and social setting, Champagne was always central to any war and vignerons of Champagne still find bullet casings in the soil today.

The Champagne method as we know it today is credited to three people: Dom Pérignon, Brother Jean Oudart and Veuve Cliquot. Most houses ferment in stainless steel vats but a few (such as Krug) ferment in oak.

Three grapes represent the cornerstone of champagne production: Pinot Noir (38% of total acreage), Meunier (34% of total acreage) and Chardonnay (28% of acreage). Each grape contributes important characteristics to the wines with Chardonnay bringing the most acidity and alcohol.

There are three AOCs in the Champagne region. AOC Rosé des Riceys makes 100% rosé (still or sparkling) from Pinot Noir grapes, AOC Coteaux Champenois produces 100% still wines and AOC Champagne contributes 100% sparkling wines.

And now for the tasting!

Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne

Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne

Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne
This house was founded in 1812 by André Michel Pierlot who passed it to his son Alphonse. Having no heirs, he bequeathed it to his cellar master, Eugéne Laurent. Following his death, his widow Mathilde Perrier took over and combined her name with his to form “Veuve Laurent-Perrier.” She developed the business and kept it going through World War I, then sold it in 1939 to the Nonancourt family. Bernard Nonancourt developed close relationships with top grape growers and created the signature Laurent-Perrier style of freshness and elegance. He was one of the first to use stainless steel tanks for fermentation back in the 1950s, introducing this light aperitif-style Champagne. Today the wines are exported to 147 countries worldwide. It is made of 50% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Meunier sourced from 55 Cru vineyards. The signature Brut dryness made it a phenomenal pairing with a creamy potato salad topped with fresh chives. You can find this selection for $44.50.Laurentsalad

Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne

Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne

Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne
Founded in 1860 by Edmond de Ayala, Ayala was a small, family-run business until 2005 when the Bollinger family bought the estate with the intention of restoring it to its former glory (after years of tough economic times). In the 1920s Ayala was official supplier to the royal courts of England and Spain. The wine is 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier that is aged three years on the lees. It’s the perfect example of the house’s fresh and elegant style. This bottle is available for $44.99./>

Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne

Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne

Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne
Barbe Nicole Ponsardin took over the running of the house in 1805 as a young woman in her early 20s. She was one of the most influential women in wine at a time when the industry was dominated by men. She created the first vintage Champagne on record in 1810 and in 1816 she developed the technique of riddling or remuage. She was especially known for opening up the Russian market to Champagne during the time of the tsars. The Veuve style involves using native yeasts in the first fermentation. Bottles are aged in chalk tunnels for 30 months on the lees, then another 3 months after being disgorged and recorked. The blend is 50-55% Pinot Noir, 15-20% Meunier, 28-22% Chardonnay. This paired well with the mushroom bruschetta from Angel Cafe. Yellow label is available for $54.99.Veuvefood

Taittinger Brut La Française Champagne

Taittinger Brut La Française Champagne

Taittinger Brut La Française Champagne
Pierre Taittinger was a young officer during World War I when he first discovered the Champagne region. After the war he returned with his brother-in-law, and they invested all their resources into developing a fine Champagne house, wagering the market would favor elegant wines expressive of their terroir. Later his son Françoise set the standard for lightness and delicacy that was to become the hallmark of the Taittinger style. Today Champagne Taittinger remains one of the few big houses that are family-owned and operated. Taittinger owns 752 acres of vines in 34 different vineyards. It is their Chardonnay grapes, mostly from the Côte Des Blancs, which gives this blend freshness, delicacy and elegance. Grapes for this wine come from at least 35 villages and are 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Meunier. You can purchase this bottle for $61.49.

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