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Wine for Romance

by Peter May

C hoosing the menu for a romantic meal is difficult as there are many competing choices. But picking the wine is easy. If you are serious about wooing your dining partner then there is only one candidate for your glasses - Pink Champagne.

    Champagne is the quintessential celebratory wine, and the pink - or rosé- version is its ultimate expression

    Champagne is special. It is made at the northernmost limits of wine growing, near Paris in the vineyards around the towns Reims and Épernay where grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier are grown. Many do not realise that white Champagne is made from black grapes. The black Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes are crushed and their clear juice is fermented along with the juice of the white Chardonnay. The skill of the Champagne maker is in the blending of wines from different grapes , vineyards and vintages to produce a complex tasting wine that maintains the style of the winery.

    Major wineries blend between 50 and 200 wines and include up to 50% of previous vintages in order to achieve the consistent taste. The still wine will now undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces the famous bubbles, but it also produces a sediment from the dying yeast cells.

    During this secondary fermentation the bottle is sealed with a crown cap as used for beer bottles. The bottle is tipped at a slight angle with the neck downwards. Every day the bottle is twisted a quarter turn and tipped at a steeper angle until the bottle is vertically upside down. This encourages the dead yeast cells to slide down and gather at the neck. In traditional Champagne houses the 'riddling' of bottles is done by hand by a skilled worker called a remuager who twists thousands of bottles every day.

    The neck of the bottle is then placed an a tray of freezing liquid, the crown cap is deftly removed and pressure forces out a plug of frozen wine containing the sediment. The bottle is then topped up with a wine/sugar mixture and the final thick cork with its wire cage. The wine now matures in cellars quarried from the local chalk for a legal minimum of one year, and usually at least three years. Then the bottle is cleaned, the label and foil wrappings are put in place and it is ready for sale.

    Pink Champagne is made in exactly the same way. But to get the glorious deep pink colour a small amount of red Pinot Noir wine is added to the blend. Champagne is the only wine allowed by French law to make pink wines by blending red and white wines. Only a tiny proportion of pink Champagne is made, and thus it usually is a little more expensive. The presence of additional Pinot Noir gives pink Champagne an added depth and body that belies its feminine color. This wine can stand up to hearty meals and will accompany any menu choice.

    The beautiful rare colour with bubbles rising in it like tiny stars, and the glamorous bottle is your guarantee of a successful evening.

Alternatives to Champagne

    Excellent sparkling wines are made in all the worlds wine regions; for reasonably priced alternatives look for sparkling wines from Spain, Australia and California. Companies trying to cut costs have found alternative ways to add the fizz to wine - some even injecting carbon dioxide! But the best wines are made in the traditional method. Look for the words 'methode traditionelle' and traditional method. Spanish wines use the term Cava, while some California wineries use the phrase 'fermented in this bottle'.

    But for that special event, serving a bottle of the sparkling wine from that small area of northern France entitled to the name Champagne demonstrates the importance you place on the occasion

If you have been, thanks for reading.

© Copyright Peter May 2002.

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1 February 2002