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Madame Bollinger“I drink [Champagne] when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it unless I’m thirsty.”  – Madame Bollinger

It may be its romantic history or more simply its splendid taste alluring wine drinkers around the world to raise their glasses at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. But for all its elegance, Champagne can be a confusing subject.

Champagne is made from a specific combination of grapes grown in France’s cool-climate vineyards. (By law only wine produced in the Champagne region of northeast France can be called Champagne.) Pinot noir gives structure, body and that delicate fruit character; chardonnay is the elegance behind the blend with floral and fruit components; and pinot meunier provides the dominant aspect to the fragrance you find in each glass. Many people ask why Champagne is not red because most of the grapes are red wine grapes. The grapes are pressed, letting the juice run out without skin contact, where color is obtained.

The complex process of producing sparkling wine is the main contributing factor when it comes to the cost of higher-quality bottles. The longer and slower the wine making process, the more expensive and complex the final wine style will be. If you add the bubbles quickly by artificial methods the result is a simple style, while adding them slowly, naturally and elaborately results in a more complex wine and higher price tag.

A Champagne that doesn’t have a specific year on the label is considered “nonvintage” (NV) and means it’s a mixture of grapes from several years. NV is about twothirds of all Champagne sold.

Vintage champagne is produced only in an exceptional year and declared by the producer. This wine is generally more expensive because of its low production and extra time in all areas of the wine making and cellaring process. Blanc de blanc is made from the chardonnay grape. Blanc de noirs are made from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. “Brut” is the driest option. “Extra dry” is actually less dry than brut and carries a small amount of sweetness on the palate. “Sec” is slightly sweet; “demi-sec” is moderately sweet; “doux” is sweet and rare.

Bonne annee.

  • NV Piper Heidsieck Brut Cuvee, France (about $46 retail)
  • 2004 Moet and Chandon Brut Imperial, France (about $95 retail)