Your Champagne Primer


Celebrations mean Champagne to most people.

Have you ever wondered why the word champagne is only used on bottles of sparkling wine from France?

Appellation my friend, its just plain geographic location. The correct term is Appellation d’origine contrôlée which translates as “controlled term of origin.” It’s the certification for certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the French government bureau Institut National des Appellations d’ Origine (INAO). If the grapes are grown and the wine produced in Champagne – then it is indeed Champagne.

Genuine Champagne is only from the very definitive Champagne region, 90 miles northeast of Paris. Everything else grown and produced throughout the world is only sparkling wine. Champagne region producers rightly manage the branding of the Champagne appellation name and take on all comers outside the region who try to usurp the Champagne name.

In Champagne, grapes have been grown for over 2,000 years. But as for champagne production; the year 1668 brought the development of cork to capture fermentation gases and became the golden opportunity to create the spectacular. To the surprise of Benedictine monk Dom Perignon at the Abbey of Hautvillers near Epernay who developed production techniques still in use today; upon tasting his first glass has been attributed the response ”. . . come quickly. I am tasting stars!”

Worldwide perception of champagne is based on its reputation as a luxury product. But champagne is in no way exclusive. Cobbler or king, there is a bottle for every price point. Upwards of 300 million bottles of genuine Champagne are produced annually, and the industry is pressing the French government to expand the 71,000-acre Champagne region to meet the swelling demand from newly affluent markets in Eastern Europe and Asia. According to the New York Times, if this comes to pass, the land value in the region will escalate over 200%. (Frank Prial, Dec. 5, 2007)

According to Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, there are 19,000 grape growers in Champagne, of whom about 5,000 sell champagne under their own name; and there are more than 12,500 Champagne brands. Unfamiliar to most of us, these new brands of champagne have appeared in the mass markets. And the reason?. Some producers that have previously made champagne for the “big names” in the past are now selling under their under own labels. A bit of detective work and a few questions of your sommelier or wine merchant will bring you some surprising results and a new favorite for a birthday celebration, new job or wedding toast. Remember to chill champagne no more than two hours before drinking to preserve flavor. Serve between 40-50 degrees F. And here is a great party trick; chill a lesser brand colder than the better bottles and it will taste better. Never chill the best champagne beyond 45 degrees F.  


Leftover  Champagne?

If you  have any leftover champagne – DO NOT THROW OUT THIS  FABULOUS INGREDIENT however flat. Here  is a practical and delicious  recipe  makes good use of precious libation that has lost “t’s stars” but not it’s flavor!
Walking down  a London street  thirty years ago, I picked up a 1953  cookbook from a bin outside a bookstore for 50 pence.  I did not know then that this  simple act of  preferring to purchase a cookbook over a  teenage novel would mark the  beginning of my  culinary journalist career.  The recipe intrigued me from the beginning. How very French to assume one has a half-pint of flat champagne on hand ?

Here it is as written in  Au Petit Cordon Bleu by Dione  Lucas and Rosemary Hume, JM. Dent and Sons, London.

2  oz. butter
6 onions
1/2 teaspoonful French mustard
Salt and black pepper
1 teaspoonful flour
1/2 pint flat champagne
1 1/2 pints stock or water ( use half beef and half chicken stock for best soup)
6 slices French bread
2 Oz. Parmesan cheese ( I use  a slice of Ementaler)

Melt butter in a casserole. (I use a heavy bottomed soup pot.) Finely slice the onions and add with the salt, pepper, and mustard.  Brown very slowly over a low fire (about 25 minutes). Then add the flour . Stir until smooth. Add the wine, stock, or water. Bring slowly to  the boil, stirring all the time. Draw aside and leave  to simmer for 25 minutes. *On the bottom of the bowls  or bowls for serving  place a few thin slices of French bread  and a few thin slices of cheese. Add the salt and pepper  and pour on the soup. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese, and glaze under the grill. Approximate time : 1 1/2 hours.

*  (Note:  I pour the soup into oven proof small Pyrex bowls. Float a large, single slice of  toasted bread on top and cover with the cheese. Then broil until bubbly.

About the Author:

Michelle is a freelance journalist specializing in luxury and experiential travel. Her readers number in the millions through her various online outlets and print magazines. She loves to explore a culture through their culture and food. "Sometimes, " she says , "luxury can be a shack on the beach with a sand floor and a ceiling of stars."

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