Here at the Road Warrior – the best travel adapter – we love food and wine! So, while in France, we certainly weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to see one of the most historical foodie birthplaces in the north of the country — the province of Champagne and home to the infamous “bubbly” beverage which has become an integral part of many celebrations.
Reims, pronounced something like “ranse” (it’s a nasalized vowel, so it’s a bit tricky to say the least!!), is a city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of france, around an hour and a half drive to the north-east of the capital city of Paris. It is the largest city in the Champagne region by population, with around 200,000 inhabitants. The city, along with Epernay and Ay, is considered one of the main places of champagne production. The name “champagne” is a term that can only be used on wines produced in this region. Here you will find some of the largest champagne-producing houses, called “les grandes marques”, and some of the best wine tasting opportunities! In fact, the champagne houses have large mazes of caves and tunnels that date back to Roman times, where the bottles of champagne age.
We visited Champagne Pommery, a champagne house that dates back to 1858 when it was, of all things, primarily a wool trading company! It transformed into a champagne house when one of the owners, Alexandre Pommery, passed away and his wife took over the business to dedicate it to champagne production. Today it is one of the larger producers in the area. Champagne Pommery provides tours of its champagne caves on a daily basis, including a wine tasting as well as a tour of the contemporary art throughout the caves.
So have you ever wondered how bubbly is made? We were curious and the folks at Champagne Pommery offer a great explanation! So, the Road Warrior brings you…A Lesson On How Champagne is Made!
Grapes used for Champagne are picked earlier than normal wine-making grapes, when sugar levels are lower and acidity levels are higher. Grapes are pressed and fermented like any wine, where the natural sugar in the grapes turns into alcohol. A base wine is produced but this is very acidic. This primary fermentation results in what is known as the “cuvee”.
Once the cuvee is blended, it is put in bottles along with yeast and a small amount of sugar and the bottle is plugged. The bottles are stored horizontally and undergo a secondary fermentation called “aging on the lees” (the “lees” refers to the yeast that causes this fermentation to occur). In the Champagne region, non-vintage wines are required to age for 15 months. A vintage wine would age for at least 36 months, but some bottles age for 6 to 8 years!
Once the aging process has stopped, the bottles must go through “riddling” to consolidate the dead yeast (or least). Bottles are placed on racks at a 45-degree angle with the cap pointed down. Every two days, the bottles are given a slight shake and turn. In a matter of 8 to 10 weeks, most of the lees becomes settled in the neck of the bottle. The lees is then removed and oftentimes a “dosage” of sugar is added. The amount of sugar in the dosage can create much of the characteristics of the final product, including sweetness as most of the sugar in the wine was consumed during secondary fermentation. Once the dosage is added, the bottle is corked and ready to be labelled. The sugar content of champagne can vary greatly. The sweetest level is “doux”, followed by “demi-sec”, ‘”sec”, “extra sec”, “brut”, and “extra brut”.
So there you have it…quite an involved process to make the bubbly…which is why it costs so much to buy a bottle of champagne these days!
We definitely recommend Reims as a destination if you are headed to the northern part of France. Champagne Pommery is a great option if you want to learn more about how champagne is produced and view some interesting contemporary art.
Until the next time, the Road Warrior — the best travel adapter — wishes you safe and Happy Travels! Á votre santé! (Cheers!)