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List: Posted: 12/19/11
Many people use the terms 'champagne' and 'sparkling wine' interchangeably. However, there are some definite differences between the two. Those who are in the know use the terms properly. Here's what you need to know.
How is Champagne Classified?
In order for a bottle to be labeled champagne, it must fulfill two main requirements. First, it must have been made in the Champagne region in France. Second, it must have been made using the 'Method Champenoise,' a traditional way of creating this tasty beverage. If you see a bottle that is made anywhere other than France, you know immediately that it’s sparkling wine.
The 'Method Champenoise' is the same way of making champagnes that has been used for centuries. The method is complex, and takes up to two months to complete. All champagnes start as wines. The wine is fermented using a yeast and sugar mixture and is bottled using temporary corks. This allows there to be a secondary fermentation which not only increases the alcohol content, but also introduces carbon dioxide inside the bottles.
Using this method requires constant attention while the fermentation process ensues. The bottles will collect sediment that must be eliminated from the bottles every few days through a process called disgorging. This is done by using special racks that hold the bottles in a downward position. Then, the sediment is emptied by hand every so often. Finally, the process is complete and the bottles of Champagne are ready for distribution.
Adding Bubbles to Wine
The 'Method Champenoise isn’t the only way used to add bubbles to wines; however, it’s the only method that allows the use of the word "champagne."
Sparkling wines are made by using a much easier and more streamlined process. The sparkling wines are made by adding yeast and sugar at the start of the process. By using pressurized tanks, the wine is allowed to ferment and bubble before it is put into bottles. This is the most commonly used method for making most of the sparkling wines we drink.
Another less expensive way to add bubbles to wine is by actually pumping them in. This method is the easiest and, of course, produces much cheaper bottles. This is done in much the same way that carbonation is pumped into soda. These sparkling wines are typically not the best quality and as you may expect, typically don’t taste much like real champagnes do.
Choosing and Opening Your Bubbly Beverage
For most of us, drinking real champagne is reserved for a few special moments in life. It’s a great way to toast a marriage, a newborn baby or an anniversary. Otherwise, sparkling wines are the most common bubbly wines in the United States. There are some very good sparkling wines that aren’t overly expensive available at the liquor store. Choose a sparkling wine just as you would choose a good wine. Look for the taste that you like the best, then chill the bottle to about 45 degrees.
Opening a good bottle of bubbly is almost an art. Contrary to popular belief, the cork should not pop out across the room or hit the ceiling. This is a sign of an amateur opener, and you will never see this done in a real French restaurant. Instead, gently work the cork out of the bottle by prying it while holding a towel on top. The top should gently pop out creating a quiet, yet distinctive popping sound. Immediately, you’ll see some bubbles come out of the bottle. For best taste, serve immediately.
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