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Methode Champenoise

A Primer on How Champagne Is Made

Recently, while savoring glass of excellent Champagne, I had a horrible realization that I know nothing about the way Champagne is produced. Sure, I could read the label, pair it with food, and select a decent bottle, but when it came to the hard-core technique that is the methode Champenoise (or methode traditionelle), I knew very little. Naturally, I decided to learn all about it and share the process with you.

  1. It begins like any other winemaking procedure: the grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) are harvested, pressed, and the juice is placed in vats.
  2. Next yeast is added. The yeast reacts with the sugar in the grapes, and this produces alcohol. This takes about six months. At this point, the wine is flat. Thus begins the second fermentation process that turns it into bubbly.

Keep reading for the rest of the Champagne-making method.

  1. More yeast and sugar is added to the wine, and the bottle is sealed with a regular bottle cap. Since the carbon dioxide can't escape, bubbles form. After about three weeks, the yeast has used up all the sugar and dies, but a sediment, which is referred to as lees, is left inside the bottle.
  2. The bottle then sits in a temperature-controlled cellar for two years. In this time, the lees give the alcohol its characteristically creamy Champagne flavor.
  3. After the lees has flavored the Champagne, it has to be removed from the bottle without disturbing the bubbles. For three weeks, each bottle, which is stored upside down, is delicately given 1/8-a-turn by hand. This forces the lees to slowly move to the neck of the bottle.
  4. Next is the disgorgement, or elimination of the lees. In this procedure, the upside-down wine bottle necks are plunged into a brine bath that's at -27°C. The cool temperature immediately freezes the mixture at the neck of the bottle and traps the lees in place.
  5. The bottle cap is removed and the pressure from the carbon dioxide forces the lees out of the bottle. The liquid that's left is pure, clean Champagne.
  6. The minute the lees escapes, the bubbles also start to slip away, so the bottle is immediately corked and wired shut. It's then ready for labels, packaging, sale, and ultimately, drinking!

Now that you know how it's made, don't you fancy a glass of Champagne?

Image Source: Thinkstock
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