Don’t Burst My Bubbles

Pop the cork, it’s time to celebrate with Champagne

Even those who don’t usually drink hardly ever say no when offered a glass of Champagne. Champagne has launched thousands of ships, toasted billions of weddings and special occasions; flutes attended countless parties, and shared untold special moments between two people. Champagne is the wine of celebration. No other wine is so associated with joy and festivity. Its meaning and appeal are universal.

The world’s most famous sparkling wine was discovered by chance in France centuries ago and now there are roughly 300 Champagne houses, many with distinguished international reputations. However, what most people don’t know is how different and unique the Champagne making process is compared to still wines. While still wines are made by pressing grapes, getting the must, and then waiting for it to ferment and generate alcohol (OK, is quite much more complex than that!), Champagne winemakers start with the same process as with still wine but once the wine is bottled, which is still high in acid and low in alcohol, the winemaker will add a precise amount of yeast and sugar to the wine, which is immediately capped. This will lead to the start of a second fermentation that takes place inside the bottle, and takes around 30 days to complete. This second fermentation will generate carbon dioxide but as the bottle has been closed it cannot escape, hence it will dissolve with the wine, creating the famous bubbles.

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After aging, an elaborate procedure is used to collect the sediment in the neck of the bottle and dispose of it. The wine is then topped up and then released for sale. However, Champagne must spend a minimum of 15 months maturing in the winery cellar, with at least 12 of those months aging on the lees (dead yeast). Vintage Champagne (which guarantees that it has been produced only with grapes from a particular year) must be aged for a minimum of three years, but most producers exceed this minimum.

Vietnam is spoilt for choice when it comes to Champagne options, with famous brands like Pol Roger, Gosset, Tattinger, Lanson, Moet and Nicolais Feuillate available in most major cities. My best recommendation is to forget about reputation and try what you like, as quite often we end up paying a high price not necessarily due to the quality of the Champagne but to cover the high advertising costs that make some so famous.

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One of my favorites, Nicolais Feuillate, is affordable and gorgeous. And if you want to spend more money, try one of their premium Champagnes like the vintage, which is absolutely delicious.

What I am Drinking this Month: Bellingham Basket Press Shiraz (South Africa). Wow, wow, wow, this is a real big wine from an unknown winery in a non-popular country, but wow again! So expect an incredible aromatic nose: violets, caramel, red and black fruits, and a little leather. On the palate it is gorgeous, great balance, rounded, decent length and an amazing complexity, especially considering it is a New World wine. Plums, hint of figs, red and black fruits, and, yes, lots of complexity. Best paired with beef, but roast pork, lamb and some Thai spicy curries will also do. Distributed in Vietnam by the Wine Warehouse.

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