Champagne and Its Mysteries
If you happen to visit France, you will not miss the Region of Champagne with its many Gothic churches and the extraordinary cathedral of the Coronation of French Kings in Reims. Champagne is also France's most famous wine. The old Champagne Province today gathers the départements of Marne, Aube and Aisne around the vineyards of Reims, Epernay and Ay.
This white light sparking wine stimulates imagination. Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, used to say it was the only wine capable of maintaining women's beauty after having drunk it. The modern economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that he only had one regret in his life: "not having drunk more Champagne". The name Champagne comes from the latin "campania" which means a plain: the region is rather flat. The vine is cultivated on the hills. Although the area is cold, the yearly average temperature is 10°C. Vine certainly grew on those gentle slopes by the times of the Gauls and Romans. The chalky subsoil is perfectly adapted to vine growing. The composition of this layer of chalk gives the wine its so characteristic taste. It is also perfect for moderating moisture and heat. Many Champagne producers have digged cellars in the chalk, especially in Reims, where the wine reaches maturity. The period when Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) was the cellarman at Hautvillers Abbey is a major event in the history of the world's most appreciated wine. The Benedictine monk probably was the first to produce, from black grapes, a perfectly limpid white wine and to invent the fermentation method called Méthode Champenoise that consists in working the wine. As he became old and blind, this connoisseur certainly also created the principle of the growth, known as cuvée: a wine of constant quality obtained through a clever blend of different vintages. Dom Pérignon is said to regularly have tasted grapes from various locations before having his breakfast. He might also well be the first to have corked his bottles with cork from Spain. Champagne may come from three varieties of grapes: black Pinot, black Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay. Most of the vineyards of the Champagne Region were planted with black Pinot. The high quality grape is also well known in Burgundy and is a base for great red wines. Chardonnay can also be found in Burgundy where it gives superb white wines. The Chardonnay vine-plant is used to make Champagne lighter and more delicate. It is only from the XVIIIth century that, once Champagne had become white and sparkling and no longer red and flat, that it became popular in all the royal courts. A Champagne Rosé also exists, produced in small quantity. This "civilizing wine" was served by Talleyrand who wanted to obtain better peace conditions at the Vienna Congress in 1814-1815. Champagne has always been considered the wine of the élite. Many varieties are offered, with many different tastes but it is always a very special wine reserved for very special events, especially when it comes from prestigious houses. And to conclude, a phrase Napoleon said: "I cannot live without Champagne, in case of victory I deserve it, in case of defeat, I need it".
The various types of bottles according to size:
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The Champagne vineyard at Epernay.
Jean François de Troy: The Oysters Lunch, 1735. Champagne is being cooled in an ice bucket.
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Champagne Rosé and White.
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