In anticipation of the increasingly popular Johannesburg Cap Classique & Champagne Festival, which this year takes place on Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 at the Inanda Country Club, we thought it was time to clear up a few myths about Champagne and address some of those questions that everyone asks …
- Champagne is made from fermented grapes following similar cultivation techniques as other wines. However, it must follow unique procedures to obtain its bubbles. Strict guidelines, along with highly protective officially controlled designation of origin, ensure that Champagne’s identity is protected.
- Champagne comes specifically from a region of the same name in north-eastern France.. However, the wine producing region patchworks across it and into other neighbouring regions too. To differentiate the two the beverage takes the masculine in the French language (le Champagne) whereas the region itself is feminine (la Champagne).
- A sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it is made within this strict 35 000 hectare region.
- Champagne is made with three major grapes. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (both black grapes) and Chardonnay (white grape).
- Most Champagnes are blended. Many Champagnes blend their grapes to produce unique flavours. However, unlike wine, they even blend the years so a blend of Champagne can feature up to 30 to 50 harvests from different villages, grapes and vintages. All to ensure that every time you open that house’s Champagne it will unquestionably taste the same. There are vintage Champagnes and blends that only use one colour of grape.
- Champagne is fermented twice. Unlike Prosecco and some Cavas, Champagne goes through intense phases of fermentation and ageing. Whereas Prosecco never leaves the stainless-steel pressurised autoclave vat until bottled for sale, Champagne spends most of its time ageing in a bottle. The grapes are fermented in vats or casks right after the press until no sugar is left. Following that, the still wine is then bottled with a mix of yeast and sugar, which is sealed with a beer cap. While it ages in the bottle, the sugar and yeast chemically react and produce gas which creates the effervescence.
- Champagnes will age at least 12 months like this but undergo other procedures to ensure they age properly. Some will sit for far longer before they see the light of day.
- Whereas some wines can age for decades after being bottled accumulating complexity and value, Champagne will remain in the cellar until aged to perfection. Only when they deem it ready will the houses release their wines for sale. When the time comes, the cap is removed and it is corked. Although some enthusiasts like to age their Champagnes after corking, you don’t have to. If you have a bottle, why wait and deprive yourself of the pleasure?
- It can be diet-friendly! Drinking alcoholic beverages is a no-no when on a diet, so isn’t it wonderful that some Champagnes contain no sugar? Furthermore, unlike diet cold drinks it’s 100% natural and more refined!
- The phenomenon of sparkling wine was discovered by accident during the Middle Ages in the Saint Hilaire Abbey when the Benedictine monks realised that wine bottled after fermenting in oak casks sometimes developed bubbles.
The Johannesburg Cap Classique & Champagne Festival,Joburg’s celebration of the finest MCCs, Champagnes, Proseccos and Sparkling Wines – takes place at Inanda Country Club on Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 from midday to 17:00 and is presented by Sanlam Private Wealth.