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Although there are many varieties of sparkling wine throughout the world, only that which is produced in the Champagne appellation (region) of France can legally bear the name that has since become synonymous with all sparkling wines. Champagne is strictly regulated by the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne and the making must follow the rules of methode champenoise, or “champagne method.”
Methode champenoise dictates that after primary fermentation of the sparkling wine, yeast is added to the bottle with rock sugar for a second fermentation lasting a minimum of 18 months. During years of exceptional vintage, a declaration may be made by the Comite Interprofessionel that mandates a three-year second fermentation. After the proper aging of 18-36 months, the yeast sediments are made to settle in the neck of the bottle and are frozen. The cap is removed and the sediment-containing ice is forced out from the natural carbonation. A small amount of syrup is added and the bottle is quickly resealed to prevent unnecessary loss of carbonation.
Most Champagne is generally made from one to three varieties of grape that is often blended in varying combinations. The white Chardonnay grape is most common, but two dark-skinned varieties compromise the other arms of the Champagne “trinity,” Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These dark-skinned grapes are pressed lightly and the skin is removed before fermentation to produce a white wine. Among other varieties used are Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, and Arbanne, but are extremely rare.
Most Champagne sold today is non-vintage. Vintage Champagne is reserved for years of exceptional quality and because of their rarity, demands a higher price. Among the regular Champagne, there are several varieties that a measured by sweetness and sugar content. Brut Natural is the driest with less than 3 grams of sugar per liter. Next is Extra Brut with 6 grams per liter. Brut is the third driest, having 15 grams per liter and then comes Extra Sec with 12 to 20 grams. Following, is Demi-sec, with 17-35 grams; Sec , with 33-50 grams; and Doux, having more than 50 grams of sugar per liter. The best-selling of these varieties is Brut.
The most recognized name among Champagne is Moet et Chandon’s Dom Perignon, which was launched in 1921. It is a single-vineyard wine and only produced in years where the vineyards yield is deemed acceptable. It is named after the Benedictine monk who is credited with the invention of Champagne.