Champagne evokes thoughts of festivity, luxury, and indulgence. It has been considered the king of wines and the wine of kings since the days when the French crowned their kings in Reims, in the heart of the Champagne region of northeastern France. Today, champagne is a more affordable indulgence that has become increasingly popular.
Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in France’s Champagne region, which originally produced a still wine that had a certain vivacity. It was in the 17th century that a Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Perignon, perfected the means of sealing the sparkle in the bottle. Today, a cork is used as a stopper to achieve this. The gas in the champagne is the result of secondary fermentation.
Champagne is made as vintage and nonvintage wines. Vintage champagne is considered to be at its best five to 10 years from the date it is made on. However, most wines are nonvintage and are stored like fine wines. Such wines, if kept for too long, become very old, losing their sparkle and freshness.
Champagne should be served chilled, but not iced. Opening a bottle calls for care, especially once the muzzle of wire is removed, due to the tremendous force behind the cork, which could cause injury.
Experts hold that true connoisseurs should ditch the traditional long-stem flutes and saucer-shaped coupes and drink champagne from elongated, tulip-shaped glasses instead.
Generally, two sizes of bottles; the standard 750 ml and the 1.5 liter magnums, are used to ferment champagne. Magnums are thought to produce higher quality champagne, as there is less oxygen in the bottle and the proportions favor appropriately sized bubbles. Other bottle sizes, named for Biblical figures, are generally filled with champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums.
In 2009, a bottle of 1825 Perrier-Jouet champagne was opened at a ceremony attended by 12 of the world's top wine tasters. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized this as the world’s oldest bottle of champagne. The tasters thought the champagne was drinkable and had notes of truffles and caramel. Only two more bottles from the 1825 vintage are known to remain.
Cristal, the aspirational champagne brand from Louis Roederer, comes in a flat-bottomed, clear, crystal bottle with anti-UV cellophane wrapper and a gold label. Worldwide awareness of its high price has given it an image of exclusivity and high status.
Excellent on its own, champagne also lends itself to creating excellent cocktails when mixed with other spirits and flavors. Be sure to add the champagne last to avoid an overflow; stir gently, and serve immediately. Some well-known champagne cocktails include Champagne Cobbler, Regent’s Punch, Magna Carter, Morning Glory, and Queen’s Cousin.
The champagne you choose to buy is definitely worth the cost — it is, after all, the wine of kings!
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