Méthode Champenoise

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Sparkling wine adds a festive air to any event, but the bubbles in Champagne have not always been a source of celebration.  In the early production of wine in the Champagne region of France, the bubbles were considered a flaw and were causing some major problems.

The Champagne region is France’s northernmost wine region and has the coolest climate.  The cool climate means that the grapes don’t always fully ripen, which results in tart flavors and high acid.  The cool climate also affects the fermentation.  Normally, fermentation will continue as long as there is sugar for the yeast to convert.  However, if the temperature drops below 50°, the yeast will go dormant.  The early vinters in Champagne would see that the yeast had stopped producing COand mistakenly think that the fermentation had completed.  The wine would be aged and bottled, but then, in the spring when the temperature rose, fermentation would begin again and create COin the bottles.  The bottles were not built to withstand the pressure and many would burst.

Eventually, the winemakers realized  that the cold temperature was the root of the problem, so they moved the wine-making underground into the caves, where the temperature was more stable.  Now the grapes could be fully fermented into a still, dry wine.   However, the bubbles had become desirable, so the winemakers started to add a mixture of wine, sugar and yeast (liqueur de triage), to instigate a secondary fermentation to generate a controlled amount of bubbles and pressure.

At the end of secondary fermentation and while aging, the bottles are slowly rotated in a manner that forces the dead yeast cells to accumulate in the neck of the bottle.  This process is known as remuage or riddling.   Next is the dégorgement step, where the neck of the bottle is dipped into a solution that freezes and expels the yeast sediment.  Finally, the bottle is topped up with  a blend of wine and sugar (liqueur d’expedition).  This final step is called dosage and determines the sweetness of the Champagne.  These are the official levels of sweetness for Champagne:

Brut nature: 0-3 g/L
Extra Brut: 0-6 g/L
Brut: 0-12 g/L
Extra Dry: 12-17 g/L
Sec: 17-32 g/L
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/L
Doux: 50+ g/L

This technique of  secondary fermentation in the bottle has became know as méthode champenoise or méthode tradionnelle.  To protect regional identity, only wines from the Champagne region in France can use the name Champagne or the term méthode champenoise on their labels.  Sparkling wine from other regions in France is usually called Crémant and can list méthode tradionnelle when secondary fermentation is done in the bottle.

 

4 French Wine Regions

franceFrance has been creating some of the most prestigious wine for centuries.  To maintain this high level of quality, French wine production is governed by the L’Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INOA).  The INOA regulates the different wine regions (AOCs or appellation d’origine contrôlée) throughout the country by providing rules to define a regional style and identity (or terroir) through grape growing and wine making techniques.  Terroir is a French term used to explain how wine reflects its place of origin.  Terroir encompasses all environmental factors that affect the grape/wine, such as climate, geography, soil, weather, wine making techniques, etc.

The AOCs vary in size and can be nested within each other.  Below I will outline some of the appellations within 4  key regions: Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley.

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Loire Valley
Climate: Maritime to Continental
Geography: Loire River
Soil: Chalky
Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Cabernet Franc
Sub-regions:

  • Pays Nantais (Muscadet)
    • Sèvre-et-Maine AOC
  • Anjou-Saumur
    • Savennières AOC (Chenin Blanc)
    • Quarts de Chaume AOC (Sweet, botrytized Chenin Blanc)
  • Touraine
    • Chinon AOC (Cabernet Franc)
    • Vouvray AOC (Chenin Blanc)
  • Central Vineyards
    • Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc)
    • Pouilly Fumé AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)

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Burgundy (Bourgogne AOC)
Climate: Cool-Moderate, Continental
Soil: Limestone and Marl in the North; Granite in the South
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay
Sub-regions:

  • Chablis (Chardonnay)
  • Cote d’Or
    • Cote de Nuits (famous for Pinot Noir)
    • Cotes de Beaune (famous for Chardonnay)
  • Cote Chalonnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Maconnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Beaujolais (Gamay)

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Bordeaux (Bordeaux AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Maritime
Geography: Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and the Gironde estuary
Soil: Gravel over limestone
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenère; Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Sub-regions:

  • Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red blends)
    • Haut Médoc AOC, which contains four famous wine communes:
      • St. Estèphe
      • Pauillac
      • St. Julien
      • Margaux
    • Graves AOC
      • Pessac-Léognan AOC
      • Sauternes AOC (Sweet, botrytized white wines_
  • Right Bank( Merlot dominated red blends)
    • Pomerol AOC
    • St. Emilion AOC
  • Entre deux Mers (Dry, white wine)

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Rhône Valley (Côtes du Rhône AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Continental to Warm, Mediterrannean
Geography: Rhone Rivers
Soil: Granite and clay in the North; Stoney (pudding stones, aka les galets) in the South
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier
Sub-regions:

  • Northern Rhone (Syrah dominated wines)
    • Côte-Rôtie AOC
    • Condrieu AOC (white only from Viognier)
    • St-Joseph AOC
    • Hermitage AOC and Crozes-Hermitage AOC
    • Cornas AOC
  • Southern Rhone (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blends)
    • Châteauneuf du Pape AOC
    • Gigondas AOC
    • Tavel AOC (rosé only)

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Sauvignon Blanc Day on Friday

 

The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc day, so here’s a little background to help you prepare for the festivities.

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that originated in France, where it is  still widely planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux .  However, it has also become popular in many New World wine regions, such as Chile, South Africa, and California, but especially New Zealand, where it has become their most widely planted grape.

Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine, with high acidity.  It is often described as crisp and refreshing, and it is one of my favorite wines for summer.  I find Sauvignon Blanc easy to drink on its own, but with its herbal and mineral qualities, it also makes an excellent pairing for fresh vegetables, salads,  fish/seafood, sushi,  and raw oysters.

Common fruit flavors for Sauvignon Blanc are lime (and other citrus), honeydew melon, green apple, and peach.  Additionally, Sauvignon Blanc is known for strong non-fruit flavors such as fresh grass, bell pepper, and chalky minerals.

 

Tasting Notes – Beaujolais Nouveau 2016

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Beaujolais Nouveau is a celebratory wine made from this year’s harvest of Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France.  The light body and fruit flavors make it very easy to drink and a lovely pairing for Thanksgiving dinner.

img_20161128_205444This year I tried the Nouveau from 2 different producers, and they were quite different. Both were light bodied, with strong red berry flavors and aromas.  However, the Pascal Chatelus was extra fruity, while the Jean-Paul Brun had some nice spicy/earthy flavors and a fair amount of tannins.

Producer: Domaine des Terres Dorré, Jean-Paul Brun
Region: Beaujolais, France
Grape Varieties: Gamay
Vintage2016
Overall Rating:  

Producer: Pascal Chatelus
Region: Beaujolais, France
Grape Varieties: Gamay
Vintage2016
Overall Rating:  

Tasting Notes – Régnié

img_20161117_095117

Name: Régnié
Producer: Julien Sunier
Region: France
Grape Varieties: Gamay
Vintage2015
Overall Rating:  ★★
Pairing: So much berry and flavor!  It was delicious to drink while preparing dinner, but it also had the body and tannins to complement my cheesy pasta and squash bake.

 

Sight
Color: Purplish/Ruby
Brightness: Dull

Aroma
Intensity: Low/Moderate
Age: Youthful
Scent: Cherry and rose petals

Palate
Dry/Sweet: Dry/Off-dry
Body: Light/Medium
Acidity: Fresh
Tannin: Low/Medium
Flavors:  Cherries and berries and
Earthiness/Minerality:
Wood:
Other/Non-fruit Aromas:

Finish: Short(8 sec)

Tasting Notes -Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages

DSC_2018Name: Beaujolais-Villages
Name: Maison Louis Jadot
Region: Beaujolais, France
Grape Varieties: 100% Gamay
Vintage2012
Overall Rating:  ☆☆
Pairing:   Being a “Villages”, this is a mid-quality wine from the Beaujolais region, but it was a solid pairing for some lamb and chicken kebabs over rice and  a good bargain.  The tart cherry and dust flavors worked with the grilled meats, and the  yogurt sauce was there to cut some of the dryness and tannin.

Sight
Color: Brick
Brightness: Dull

Aroma
Intensity: Low/Moderate
Age: Some Age
Scent: Dried cherry and leather

Palate
Dry/Sweet: Bone Dry/Dry
Body: Medium
Acidity: Smooth
Tannin: Low/Medium
Flavors:  Tart cherry, currants, dust/mustiness
Finish:  Long(5-7 sec)

Tasting Notes – L’Insurgé

DSC_2659Name: L’Insurgé
Producer: Jeremy Quastana
Region: France
Grape Varieties: Gamay
Vintage2013
Overall Rating:  ★★★
Pairing: 100% gamay is unusual, but this was a delicious wine.  Jeremy Ouastana is a young, French winemaker who is all about sustainability.  L’Insurgé is a light bodied red, with excellent fruit flavors and some tartness.  As the French would say, this wine has  plenty of glou-glou.  It is best served slightly chilled and  was a perfect choice for warm fall evening aperitif (i.e. pre-dinner drinks).

Sight
Color: Ruby
Brightness: Bright

Aroma
Intensity: Moderate
Scent: Strawberries and cherries, and some earthiness

Palate
Dry/Sweet: Dry/Off-dry
Body: Light
Acidity: Tart
Tannin: Low
Flavors: More berries and cherry flavor, as well as some pepper