Sparkling wines have their roots in the French region of Champagne. From here comes its prestige and the beginning of the myth of its bubbles. I invite you to explore its history, styles and pairings.
The history of champagne began with chance and the power of observation. During winters in Champagne the fermentation process of wines stopped by the cold temperatures and reactivated only with the arrival of spring. This caused stormed fine bubbles in the wine. The producers found ways to improve and control the procedure of secondary fermentation. This wonderful accident was the beginning of the well-known traditional method used for the preparation of the finest sparkling wines.
The legend says that in 1670 Dom Perignon, a monk of the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers, was the first to practice the blend of grapes from different vintages and varieties, which improved wine quality. According to this legend, during a pilgrimage to the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Languedoc, he discovered the method of production of sparkling wine from Limoux and perfected his recipe.
In Chile and other parts of the world, champagne became a generic name, but because the recent trade agreements that protect the denominations of origin, today the name of sparkling wine coming from out of Champagne is “sparkling wine”. Producers also have created their own denominations as Cremant (France), Cava (Spain), Sekt (Germany) or Prossecco (Italy).
Sparkling wines can be produced by two methods: traditional or Champenoise and Charmat. The first is a process that literally occurs bottle by bottle.
The second, however, is intended for higher volumes and born by the high demand for these products at more reasonable prices than traditional wines from Champagne. This method, created in 1907 by Jean-Eugène Charmat from the University of Montpellier, is carried in tanks 700 or more liters, which are completely sealed to preserve the bubbles. In general, this method brings more fruity, fresh and young wines.
Champenoise production is destined to obtain more elegant, complex sparkling wines, with greater storage capacity. First the grapes are harvested manually. It is essential that the fruit arrives in perfect condition to preserve all the natural yeast on the skin grain, in order to facilitate fermentation. Then the grapes are pressed. Champagne is a white wine made with red grapes like Pinot Noir, therefore the juice has very little contact with the skin to not get much color. If a longer contact is allowed, we will get a rose sparkling wine.
Sparkling can be a blend of grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), but also of different lots and even vintages. (A wine from an exceptional year bears the name of millesime champagne.) If a sparkling wine is made only with Chardonnay is called Blanc de Blanc and is characterized by a very delicate flavor. And it is made from a red grape variety, is called Blanc de Noir and is recognized by a good texture and body, along with rich notes of wild fruits.
After the blend, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. It’s time to add the liquor, composed of yeast and sugar. During the transformation process of sugar into alcohol, the carbonic gas trapped inside the bottle is released. Then, thee bottles are installed in a cellar for remuage process. Installed in racks with the neck down, every day they are rotated a quarter turn. It is a sudden movement to take off the lees wall of the bottle and make them go down to the neck. Alternating rotation, the lees are consolidated against the capsule.
After months or even years, depending on the time that the producer decides to raise the wine on its lees, the neck of the bottle is frozen. Temporary crown cap is removed and all sediments are expelled by the pressure of the bubbles. The bottle loses a little liquid and sugar. Then comes the stage of dosage. The master of the cellar adds liquor, the best kept secret of the house, and the amount of sugar determines the style of the sparkling wine:
- Brut Nature: also called no dosage; its residual sugar content must remain less than 3 grams per liter.
- Extra brut: up to 6 grams of sugar per liter, as Subercaseaux Extra Brut.
- Brut: up to 12 grams of sugar per liter, as Casillero del Diablo Devils Brut Collection.
- Extra Sec (or Extra Dry): between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per liter.
- Sec (or dry): between 18 and 32 grams of sugar per liter.
- Demi sec: between 32 and 50 grams of sugar per liter.
- Doux: more than 50 grams of sugar per liter.
The matching of sparkling wine and food depends on its style. Sparkling wine is an excellent aperitif, a wine for every occasion, but it also works well with many types of food. A sparkling like Subercaseaux Extra Brut made with the Charmat method, pairs well with salty dishes, such as oysters, Iberian type hams and anchovies thanks to its remarkable acidity. On the other hand, do not hesitate to choose this type of wine for dishes with fritters. Its bubbles clean the fat mouthfeel and refresh the plate.
Wines made with the traditional method, as Subercaseaux Grande Cuvée, have a very sharp acidity, but also a very complex flavor. You can uncork this great sparkling wine with seafood, as a delicious ceviche mixto. These wines will also go well with a grilled chicken salad and other white meats thanks to its great structure.
And remember, sparkling wines are rich in umami taste. So you will have an excellent opportunity to feel the sigh of corkage and free wine bubbles with a salad of tomatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a beef carpaccio or soy sauce-based dishes.