8 part video series on the history of Champagne filmed in France

Champagne Smarts

You might find this spinning round in your brain, like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.

1) True or False: Champagne makers recommend making a strong “pop” when you open a bottle of champagne.
Answer = False

Not only is “popping” the cork possibly dangerous as it may strongly shoot out uncontrollably, it also allows for a lot of the carbon dioxide bubbles to escape, leaving a flat wine. The fizz flies away! The best way to open a bottle of champagne it is to keep your hand and fingers over the cork and slowly rotate the bottle, gently turning it from the bottom to ease the cork out very slowly with only a soft “sigh sound”… “a soft kiss opening”. Rémi Krug demonstrates this technique in the Krug episode #7 of Champagne Journal.
2) Remuage – the process of removing dead yeast cells leftover from the 2nd fermentation in the bottle – was discovered by:
a. A monk.
b. A biologist.
c. A widow.
d. A German winemaker.

Answer = A widow

Remuage was first developed by Veuve Clicquot in the early 1800s. ‘Veuve’ means widow in French. She inherited her family’s champagne house upon the untimely death of her young husband. Nicole-Barbe Clicquot was in her twenties with a young daughter when her husband suddenly died of a fever. Afterward, her father-in-law was planning to close down the company, due to his sadness at the loss of his son, but she convinced him to cede it to her to run. She then set out to solve a very serious problem that had plagued the champagne makers for over 100 years.. that of getting rid to the sticky sludge like sediment (lees,) that was left after fermentation, without the bubbles escaping. Champagne cannot be decanted like other wines as the fizz flies away leaving a flat wine. Veuve Clicqout, along with her cellar master, came up with remuage, the process where the bottles are gradually turned until they’re upside down trapping the sediment into the neck, where it is then flash frozen and expelled. This process is still being used today. Originally it was done by hand, but now Gyropalettes are machines used to shorten the length of remuage time, but some champagne makers still use the manual method. To learn more on Veuve Clicquot see episode #4 of Champagne Journal.
3) True or False: White wine can be made from black grapes. Sparkling and still wines.
Answer = True

The red color comes from leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice after the pressing. White wines are often made from black grapes. To do so, the winemakers remove the black grape skins quickly to keep the color of the white juice from being tainted. The majority of champagnes are made of a blend of 3 grape varietals, two black: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and one white: Chardonnay. (Some are also made of 100% Pinot Noir or 100% Chardonnay.)
4) Which champagne is typically the driest?
a. Extra Dry.
b. Brut.
c. Demi-Sec.
d. Cuvée.

Answer = Brut

Below is a guideline to the terms you will find on champagne labels and their levels of dosage (sweetness). Typically, non-vintage champagnes have more sugar added than vintage champagnes.
* Ultra Brut or Brut Sauvage (very dry) no dosage at all (not common)
Brut (dry) 0-15 grams of dosage
* Extra Brut (dry) 12-20 grams of dosage
* Sec (slightly sweet) 17-35 grams of dosage
* Demi-sec (sweet) 33-50 grams of dosage
* Doux (very sweet) more than 50 grams of dosage (not common)
5.) What grape varietal is in a Blanc de Blancs champagne?
a. Riesling.
b. Viognier.
c. Chardonnay.
d. Any white grape.

Answer = Chardonnay

Blanc de Blancs means “white from white”, which literally reflects ‘white wine from white grapes’, typically they are 100% Chardonnay. Blanc de blancs are the most light and most elegant of champagnes. They also age better and longer to bring out the full, rich complexity of the wine. They make an outstanding apéritif drink and are perfect for toasts at weddings and other celebrations of life.
6.) By French law: A wine can only be called champagne if the grapes are grown in the Champagne region, that is officially designated by the French government, and they must also be vinified in this same region. Which of the following is not a type of sparkling wine?
a. Cava.
b. Prosecco.
c. Barbera d’Alba.
d. Crémant.
e. Sekt.
f. Moscato d’Asti.

Answer = Barbera d’Alba

Barbera d’Alba is a red wine from Italy that has low tannins and high acidity. They pair great with Pizza! All the others are sparkling wines produced outside the Champagne region. Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine. Sekt is sparkling from Germany. Crémant is French sparkling from regions outside of Champagne – most commonly produced in the Alsace, Bordeaux and Loire areas. Prosecco and Mosacato d’Asti are sparkling wines from Italy.
7.) What was King Louis XV’s important royal decree (law) that changed the champagne industry in 1728?
a. Only the wines of Champagne would now be allowed to be transported in bottles.
b. At the Palace, champagne could only be served in Coupe shaped glasses.
c. He ordered the storing of champagne underground in the chalk crayères, that the Romans had dug under the city of Rheims, to be sure it was properly chilled.
d. All champagne bottles must be made of green glass.

Answer = Only the wines of Champagne would now be allowed to be transported in bottles.

All other wines had to be transported in wood casks (barrels) due to tax efficiencies. This critical new law meant that bottled sparkling wine could be sent directly to people not only within France, but now to England, Holland, Russia and the Colonies (America and beyond). Barrels were not good for champagne at all, because of their porous nature they allowed the gas (bubbles) to escape and left the wine flat. Shipping champagne in bottles meant the market expanded significantly for the producers of this bubbly wine for the first time. In 1735, Louis XV ruled again on this favorite royal beverage. He now decreed champagne would have to come in bottles of the same shape and size- no less than 25 ounces in a bottle (flacon) of a bulb-shape with a long narrow neck. Also, three threaded string must be used to secure the cork. For more on the Kings of France and their influence on champagne see the Versailles episode #1 of Champagne Journal.
8.) True or False: Most champagne houses do not own their own vineyards. They purchase grapes from designated vineyards.

Answer = True

On champagne labels they may be marked NM for
Négociant-Manipulant meaning they buy grapes to make their champagne. RM means Récoltant-Manipulant if a grape grower makes champagne mainly with his own grapes.
9.) Which American President was the first to serve champagne at a State dinner?
a. George Washington.
b. John Adams.
c. Thomas Jefferson.
d. Abraham Lincoln.
e. Theodore Roosevelt.

Answer = George Washington

President Washington served champagne at a State dinner in 1796. Thomas Jefferson, the wine connoisseur of the 18th century, served as Minister to France and Secretary of State prior to his own Presidency and introduced Washington to champagne. Moët et Chandon has in its records an order for their champagne to be delivered directly to Washington’s cellar in 1790!
10.) By French law, a Vintage champagne must be aged a minimum of how many years before disgorgement when the lees (leftover sediment) is expelled?
a. 1 year
b. 2 years
c. 3 years
d. 5 years

Answer = 3 years

Champagnes are aged by the producers before being released onto the market. They do the proper cellar aging for us. By French law, Vintage champagnes (grapes are harvested in the same year) are legally required to be aged in cellars for 3 years before disgorgement, but the best champagne makers, in fact, keep their bottles on the lees for several additional years before disgorgement… making them also ready to be enjoyed at time of purchase. Dom Pérignon for 7 to 10 years and Krug 6 to 20 years, just to name two. By French law, a NV (non-vintage) champagne must be kept on lees, before disgorgement, for a minimum of 1.5 yrs. Some outstanding and excellent tasting NVs are available for around $30 such as Louis Roederer’s Brut Premiere (actually kept on lees for 3+ years before release.) Fully ready to be enjoyed at time of purchase and most argue there’s not much improvement with additional aging. Naturally, this storage/aging time will be incorporated into the price, but at least you can have confidence you will get a properly aged wine with fabulous taste, with few exceptions. While expensive, vintage champagnes are more readily available than other aged wines and those aging risks have been greatly minimized, because they’ve been taken care of by the producers. Salut!
11.) Many champagne houses use a star symbol on their corks and labels to represent “the year of the comet”. What year was this?
a. 1776
b. 1800
c. 1811
d. 1860

Answer = 1811

Champagne experienced a remarkable harvest in 1811, which people believed was caused by an enormous and brilliant comet speeding across the night skies. This great comet, also referred to as Napoleon’s Comet, was reportedly visible for more than 8 months by the naked eye! A few Champagne houses still use this comet symbol for good luck.
12.) 95% of champagnes sold today are in the Brut style (dry /non-sweet). Who created the first commercially sold Brut champagne?
a. A monk.
b. A biologist.
c. A widow.
d. A German winemaker.

Answer = A widow

Veuve Pommery (Louise) chose to try to make a new champagne that had not been done before. She wanted to make history and she sure did! Her experiment was quite risky and involved greater costs, but with capitalism, greater risk has potential for greater reward. After experimenting for a few years, Louise successfully blew the market away in 1874 with her new Brut champagne! She was the first to create commercially sold champagne that was not sweet and could be had throughout meals. Others had thought about trying to make a dry champagne, but didn’t do it, because of the risks and costs involved. Dry champagne, which is called Brut, was more expensive and difficult to make. Prior to 1874, champagne makers picked grapes early, to avoid loss on the vines, due to the colder climate and sudden changes in the weather, and then added sugar to cover up the raw acidity that occurs when picking unripe grapes. Creating a dry champagne could not be achieved simply by cutting down the amount of sugar added. Better grapes had to be used that were fully ripened, and dry champagne also requires longer aging for the best taste. Widow Pommery was able to get some growers to agree to keep their grapes longer on the vines by guarantying to absorb any losses if the growers picked when she said to… This was very risky and even her own staff was skeptical. But she gave it a shot and triumphed! and now 95% of all champagne sold is Brut. But the biggest risk to Louise Pommery was that the world had only known Sweet champagne and liked it that way. Even her own staff was skeptical. But she had made her decision to go ahead. She wanted to make something that would live on in history! And she sure did!
13.) True or False: The Charmat method produces champagne in a pressurized tank and is then bottled under pressure too.

Answer = False

The Charmat method is a bulk process for making sparkling wine. The ONLY method to produce champagne is where the 2nd fermentation takes place in the bottle. The process has many steps and has changed little since the late 1800’s. To learn more about the champagne making process see the Louis Roederer episode #5 of Champagne Journal.
14.) Which American Military leader is credited with saving the historic champagne cellars of Épernay from destruction by the retreating Nazi’s?
a. General Eisenhower.
b. General Montgomery.
c. General Patton.
d. General Rommel.

Answer = General George Smith Patton, Jr.

The Nazi’s knew their days were numbered after D-Day on June 6, 1944 when “160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.” In Épernay, the Nazis stored dynamite to be blow up the miles of underground champagne cellars and bridges if they had to evacuate. The city was spared when Patton’s Army (U.S. Third) took them completely by surprise on August 28, 1944! Thank you Patton and his U.S. Third!
15.) Which champagne did noted British Explorer Robert Falcon Scott take with him on his voyage to the Antarctic?
a. Louis Roederer.
b. Moët et Chandon.
c. Charles Heidsieck.
d. Pommery.
e. Krug.
f. Veuve Clicquot

Answer = Charles Heidsieck

“Robert Falcon Scott (1868 –1912) was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910-1913. During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.” In 1965 a case of Charles Heidsieck champagne was found frozen, still chilling, since 1912. For photos of Robert Falcon Scott and his crew having Charles Heidsieck champagne see episode #4 of Champagne Journal.
16.) True or False: The smaller the bubbles means the better the champagne.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxXx
Answer = True

Champagne researcher Gérard Liger-Belair has discovered the bubbles contain up to 30 times more flavors and aromas than the liquid. This means continuous streams of fine, small bubbles act as a flavor delivery system to your taste buds. He estimates up to 11 million bubbles can escape a standard size flute of champagne (1/10th of a liter – a bottle has 750 ml of champagne). In short, now there is science to back up the claim that smaller and more regular streams of champagne bubbles are the best!
17.) Late Disgorged champagne called Récemment Dégorgé (RD) was first produced by?
a. A monk.
b. A biologist.
c. A widow.
d. A German winemaker.

Answer = A widow

Veuve Bollinger (Lily) was the first to produce a late disgorged champagne. The first Bollinger Rd was vintage 1952. What is Disgorgement? Disgorgement is when the sediment is expelled from the bottle. More specifically, the ‘lees’ are the wine’s leftover yeast sediment from the 2nd fermentation. It is moved into the neck of the bottle via remuage, then frozen and expelled completely (disgorgement). To be sold as non-vintage Champagne NV, French law dictates the wine must age at least (on lees) 15 months after the second fermentation begins, and three years if it will bear a vintage date. Why keep champagne on it lees longer than normal? Well, the champagne benefits from this prolonged maturation because these yeasts slowly enhance its complexity and aromas, resulting in a “richer style” if you will. This extended aging on lees is more costly due to the storage expense, which, ultimately, means it is more expensive for consumers. Interestingly, despite this extra aging on lees it is able to remain fresh, effervescent, crisp, and youthful for many years, as the lees shield it from oxidation. However, as soon as the lees are removed, the wine starts aging. How does one know the disgorgement date? Look for it listed on the back label.
18.) During Prohibition the infamous Chicago gangster, Al Capone, preferred to drink which champagne rather than gin?
a. Dom Pérignon.
b. Veuve Clicquot.
c. Pommery.
d. Louis Roederer.

Answer = Pommery

Count Maxence de Polignac was the commercial director for Pommery & Greno Champagne and had been receiving large orders for a mysterious client in Chicago who never haggled about price and promptly paid his bills. Polignac decided to go see this important client himself so he went to Chicago to try to meet him. However, upon arrival he was greeted by FBI agents who arrested him, as unknowingly his important customer was Al Capone! The newspaper headlines then read “Count in the Clink.” Polignac was released a few days later after paying a large fine.
19.) True or False: Non-vintage champagnes need to be aged more once purchased. To improve flavor.
Answer = False

It is generally best to drink these wines within 1 to 2 years after they are released. They really don’t benefit from further aging. Many people mistakenly save these type of champagnes for years waiting for a formal affair, only to find it flat and faded when finally opened. Our advice is to drink it sooner rather than later!
20.) Who of the following was the first head of a champagne house to visit the United States?
a. Louis Roederer.
b. Claude Moët.
c. Louise Pommery.
d. Charles Heidsieck.
e. Johann-Josef Krug.
f. Veuve Clicquot

Answer = Charles Heidsieck

Charles Heidsieck founded his eponymous firm before he turned thirty. He was the first head of a champagne house to ever visit the States, arriving in Boston in 1852. Though champagne had been sent to America, even before the Revolution, most champagne makers viewed it as too far away to do business and also that it was a wild, unsophisticated country. But Charles viewed it differently, as an untapped market brimming with opportunity. He was quite charismatic and quickly became very popular with Americans and orders began pouring in. He was nicked-named “Champagne Charlie”. At one point, he even owned a deed to a third of the land of the city of Denver! To learn more about Charles see episode #4 of Champagne Journal.

Champagne Smarts Scorecard: