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WINES BY REGION

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Champagne

Champagne is, I suspect, not only the single-best known wine region in the world, but also the name most synonymous with great wine.  It is impossible to imagine a celebration without accompanying Champagne.  But of course, Champagne does not refer to all wine with bubbles in it - at least, not for the past 20 or more years.

Champagne only refers to specific wine, notably sparking wine produced using the traditional method, made within a very specific region of France.  Centred around the towns of Reims, Epernay and Chalons, the world-famous style is much copied around the world, in virtually every wine-producing country.  Indeed, some of these sparkling wines are very good, although none have yet emulated the consistent quality and style of Champagne.

The Champagne region is a mere 150 kilometers north-east of Paris, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines planted on the chalky white Kimmerigian soils.  Whilst the specific climate and soils - terroir if you will - play an immeasurably important role in the making of Champagne, it is the magic of the secondary fermentation that gives Champagne its fizz that truly makes Champagne great.

The harvested grapes are crushed, pressed and fermented in the usual manner, but then the wine is placed in bottle with a little more sugar and yeast, re-sealed and a secondary fermentation induced.  Being in a sealed vessel (the bottle with a metallic cap on it) the carbon dioxide produced during this second fermentation is retained within the wine in dissolved form.  The wine is allowed to remain on its lees for an extended period - a minimum of 15 months but often longer, especially for the better cuvees - prior to 'disgorging' (where the lees are removed from the bottle) and the wine topped up, corked and a wire capsule or 'cage' attached to ensure the cork isn't expelled from the bottle prematurely.

Non-vintage Champagnes - the most prevalent - are blended from various wines and vintages to ensure a consistent house style.  Vintage Champagnes are produced from grapes from a single vintage, and are usually considered superior.  Styles vary considerably from house to house, maker to maker, with varying proportions of grape varieties, length of ageing, production methods (such as barrel fermentations and ageing) as well as dosage (the process whereby a small amount of liqueur is added at the end, sweetening the Champagne slightly).

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