Stars in a bottle
December 29, 2005
“Come quickly! I see stars.”As legend goes, those were the words used by Benedictine monk Dom “Pierre” Perignon when he “discovered” Champagne in an abbey in Hautvillers, France, in the late 1600s. Historians dispute that Perignon actually invented the sparkling wine that has delighted the palates of the privileged ever since, noting that sparklers had their origin many years, perhaps centuries, before.Nonetheless, the image of a fat but friendly French holy man actually being visited by a celestial apparition in a glass holds a romance that has endured for generations.No holiday and drink are so linked as that of Champagne and New Year’s Eve. Whether or not one relishes the end of the old and the dawn of a new year, a toast of the bubbly is standard practice throughout the world.A word or two about the blessed juice.Champagne, real Champagne, comes exclusively from France. More specifically, from the Champagne region of France, which is located in the northern corner of the country about 90 miles northeast of Paris, not far from the Belgian border.While other vintners in other regions of the world make wines using the same grapes and techniques as those used in the Champagne region, they cannot, by French winemaking law, be called Champagne. Hence, one may find designations on a label such as “Sparkling Wine” or “Methode Champenoise” indicating that a wine from another place was made using the traditional methods found in Champagne.Most Champagne and sparkling wines use a combination of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. A winemaker will make still wines, without bubbles, from these three grapes and blend the wines to his individual specifications. It is this blending of the wine that is the unchallenged contribution of our aforementioned Dom Perignon to the art of making the Champagne that we love today.Once blended, sugar and yeast are added to the bottled juice and the wine begins its magical journey, creating the “stars,” or bubbles, as carbon dioxide forms in the bottle. There is more work to be done as techniques like riddling (the turning of the bottles) and disgorgement (the releasing of the yeast and sediment) are employed, but eventually one will have a bottle ready for the revelers.The beauty of Champagne comes in its color, aroma, taste and, of course, from the frothy lightheaded, inhibition-freeing feeling it gives the sipper. It is a luxury. One of life’s little pleasures.This Saturday night, throughout the town, up the canyons and in the hills, corks will be popped just prior to midnight on bottles of Dom Perignon, Taittinger, Perrier-Jouet and Vueve-Cliquot. But regardless of the origin of your bubbly, every celebration can have stars.All you have to do is look for them.
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