Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Champagne the Most Famous Sparkling Wine in the World. Choosing the Champagne that Meets your Sweetness Preferences.
Behind the French Menu
Bottles of Mumm Champagne.
Photograph courtesy of dpotera
The Champagne story.
The traditional story begins with a Benedictine
monk named Dom (Brother) Pérignon(1639-1715),
who was thecellar-master at the Abbey of Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers in the old French
Province of Champagne. According to tradition, Dom Perignon
was checking wines that had been fermented in barrels and had just been transferred
to bottles. To Dom Pérignon’s
surprise the wine started fermenting all over again: it had failed to complete
the fermentation before being bottled. Now with fermentation taking place a
second time, inside the bottles, the bottles began exploding or firing off their
corks. Dom Perignonquickly realized that he could do nothing to
stop this and so he waited until peace and quite had returned. Then he saw that a few bottles remained undamaged; those bottles when opened by Dom Perignon andhis fellow monks surprised them with a new and unique wine. They were the first in the world to taste Champagne.
by courtesy of faberzeus.
Dom Perignon knew a great deal about wine and realized
that during the second fermentation the carbon dioxide was trapped within the
wine, and that had created the bubbles. Dom Perignon also sold the Abbey's wine and so he knew that he was onto
something big; though how big it would become, he never could have imagined. Moreover, in the 1600’s bottles were expensive,
and all were hand-blown. Nearly all wine was delivered in barrels, with only
the very wealthy able to afford wines in glass bottles; however, Dom Perignon realized there would still be plenty of wealthy customers ready to pay
for this new wine. After discussing the possibilities with his brother monks, they
used heavier glass bottles and repeated the initially accidental process.Heavier glass bottles solved part of the
problem and to prevent the corks flying off Dom Perignon use a specially shaped cork that was tied to
the bottle with string.
The moral behind this story.
drinking enough Champagne, or sweeping enough floors covered in glass and
swimming in Champagne, may be the mother of invention.
Now for the rest of the story.
One hundred years before Dom Perignon another sparkling wine had been made with similar production methods, though it is quite likely that Dom Perignon had never heard of it. Also a lightly sparkling wine Clairettede Die, made with very different methods, had been around from at least the 1300’s. Still,
Dom Perignon had his own unique creation and he also added a great many, completely new, ideas
into the production of Champagne. Dom Perignon created Champagne, and by
the way most of the modern sparkling wine industry.With the founding of such an important
product and the industry that it supports Don Perignon deserves every bit of
the fame he has received,.
With the opening of the
Marne-Rhine canal in 1853 bottled Champagne could reach the Paris wine market
at Bercy in quantity, and with little breakage. Twenty years later came
automated bottle production and with that, Champagne’s price became low enough to
reach a completely new market. Since that time our wine-lists, menus and celebrations
have never been the same
Choosing the sweetness, or dryness, of Champagnes
and/or other sparkling wines.
During the final bottling of champagne that comes after
the traditional second fermentation the wine lost in the process must be replaced. Topping up the bottle is called the dosage, and to fill the bottle a limited mixture of white wine, brandy, and sugar
may be added. That addition also adjusts the alcohol level and sweetness of the wine in the bottle. The bottle is then
corked and wired down and only then may be sent off to market or sent to
the cellars for aging.
Champagnes can be ordered in five degrees of
Most other sparkling wines and even French cider have copied the terminology used for the sweetness grades of Champagne.
Order your bottle of Champagne or other sparkling
wine using the terms on the list below. NB, A still dry wine in French is a vin sec; however, a Champagne sec will be slightly sweet. Please check the list below before ordering.
Bruit Nature or Brut Zero -A very,
very dry Champagne, a wine that is as dry as a piece of slate. To
this wine, during the dosage, the filling up of the bottle, no sugar will have been
Ultra Brut – This is a very dry Champagne; a Champagne with
a pleasant bone dry taste; Personally think that the ultra-brut along with brut
shows the best in Champagne. I believe the same is true with other French
sparkling wines like the Crémants
or Italian sparkling wines like Prosecco.
Brut – A dry, Champagne. Not as dry as the ultra-brut,
but for many considered the best for sparkling wines; this is a very pleasant
and dry wine.
- Dry in a still wine; however, in a Champagne or other sparkling wine this
will be slightly sweet! A champagne sec
compared with a dry wine sec is entirely different. If you want a slightly
sweet champagne then, you must order it sec, dry.Confusing as it may be remember tradition is
Demi-sec or Semi-sec –With regular wines this means semi-dry; In a Champagne or other sparkling wine, a demi-sec or semi-sec will be a very sweet sparkling wine. A Demi-sec
champagne will be as sweet as the sweetest dessert wines.
Doux- Sweet. A really
sickly sweet dessert champagne or sparkling wine;
for me it is just like sugar poured into the wine.
Millésimes- Vintage Champagnes
Most years, in the world of Champagne, are good
years, but they are not great years. Just good is not good enough to produce a
Millésime, a Vintage, in
Champagne country. A Champagne vintage
year will have all the grapes used coming from the same year; that will be a
year good enough to remember for the unique taste of that Champagne. Vintage
years are declared when the rain, the sun, the humidity and the winter all work
together and produce grapes that make a clearly distinct wine. However, Vintage
Champagnes from different producers will
have different tastes and only you can decide which is the best.
Champagne cuvees are made using only the first pressing of
the grapes. Among Champagne mavens a Cuvee Millesime, a Cuvee Vintage Champagne,
will be considered better than a
regular vintage champagne, A Cuvee Millesime Grand Cru will be
considered the best of the very best; it will be best wine that the Champagne
House who made it can offer.
During those ordinary years the cellar
master must enter the picture and begin his or her work.A Champagne house makes non-vintage champagnes by taking this year’s wine and
blending them with wines of past years. Cellar masters use their innate abilities to taste
and smell wines and visualize how that taste will blend with the wines of past
years.The cellar masters have to know
how to make thousands of bottles that will achieve the same taste from bottle
to bottle and year to year. When you see a Champagne bottle with no year on the
label that is a non-vintage Champagne. For most of us, an enjoyable non-vintage
Champagne is what we buy and what will be used at family, and other
Grand Crus and Premier Crus.
The terms above apply to the grapes grown
in specific vineyards; only later the names may be transferred to a bottle’s
label. With rare but occasional changes
the vineyards where the grapes are grown
are re-graded andthen the value of the
grapes it produces increases or decreases accordingly. For more in depth information
on Champagne grades this post, like my knowledge, would never be enough. You will
need to read one of the many excellent books written by the Champagne experts
and take a special Champagne tasting course.
Champagne is chosen as the wine to flavor many
dishes and cocktails;
Granité de Fraises au Champagne. A granité is the French version of the
Italian granita and began like the Italian originalwith just sugar, fruit and water served with
crushed ice on a hot day. Many guide books translate a French
granité as a sludge, which the aperitif noted here definitely IS NOT. The
granité above will be a delicious aperitif; it is made with strawberries, champagne and crushed
Filet de la Pintade Avec une Sauce au Champagne – Breast of Guinea hen served in a
Huîtres Gratinées au Champagne –Oysters cooked with Champagne and then
browned under the grill before serving
Les Médaillons de Lotte aux Petits
Légumesau Champagne – Round cuts from the tail of themonkfish served withyoung vegetable
cooked in Champagne. The monkfish is one of the tastiest fish with a firm
texture and in the top ten popularity stakes in French restaurants.
Most champagnes today are blends ofChardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, though altogether seven
different grapes are permitted. When a wine is a made with a single white wine
grape, most often that will be a Chardonnay, then the Champagne is called a
Blanc de Blanc, a white wine from white grapes.
Other Champagnes that are well known
include the Blanc de Noir, white wines from black grapes. Blanc de Noir Champagnes
are most often made with Pinot Noir and
Pinot Meunier grapes used together or separately. Other grapes that go back to
earlier Champagne traditions use Arbane,
PetitMeslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot
Gris grapes. When a Champagne House makes a Champagne using a traditional grape
that will offer a different taste, you may be sure that that will be well
advertised, and Champagne cognoscenti will place their orders.
The House of Champagne Bollinger.
Photograph courtesy of DerekL
There are approximately 15,000 vineyard owners in the
champagne growing area; however, nearly 70% of the Champagne made comes from
the large Champagne Houses.Vineyard
owners may either sell their grapes to the large Champagne House, produce Champagnes themselves or make Champagne through a cooperatively
owned venture. Many growerswill try their hand with all of these options. Among the vineyard owners, 5,000 also produce a finished Champagne under their own name, or
sellit to wholesalers who put their
name on the bottle. That’s a lot of different Champagnes to choose from; to
begin testing I suggest a three-month trip to Champagne land for starters.
On Sale at Tattinger.
Photograph courtesy of Pablo Monteagudo
The labels onChampagne bottles begin with the
name of the producer whether a great Champagne House, an artisanal produce, a
wholesaler who put his name on the bottle, or even a supermarket who bought directly. If you wish there are producers
who will sell you bottles with your name on the label.
Apart from the name there is a great deal of other information on the labels:
The year: Only for vintage champagnes. If the label has no year then the champagne is a non-vintage.
Champagne ageing in the cellars of one of the great
The title for special wines: Premier
Crû or Grand Cru fora
Champagne made with the top ratedgrapes. Special Cuvee with the
year indicates a very special wine. Many Special Vintage Cuvees are considered superior
to Premiers crus.
The percentage of alcohol: 12%- 14%.
The volume of wine: A standard
bottle is 75cl
A Champagne label for a non-vintage Brut
Photograph courtesy of Thomas Hawk
Two letter codes: These are printed in very small print, usually on the
lower left-hand side of the label.. These codes indicate who really is behind
the production of the Champagne.
CM: Coopérative de Manipulation. A co-operative which makes and sells wine
from grapesgrown by its members, .
ND: Négociant Distributeur. - A wholesaler who buys finished wines and
sells them under his own label.
NM: Negociant-Manipulan – A
Champagne producer who buys grapes and makes Champagne.
MA Marque d’Acheteur – A Champagne sold with the buyer’s name, not the
RC: Recoltant-Cooperative – A
wine made with grapes from a single grower, but blended and bottled for him at
a co-operative; then sold under the grower’s own brand.
RM: Recoltant-Manipulant: Growers,
who make and sell their own Champagne. They may also sell and or buy grapes from other
Société de Récoltants. A company set up to make Champagne
from a number of vineyards that the company owns. A Société de Récoltants may also buy
To avoid horrifying the locals remember that a
champagne glass in French is never a verre, a glass.There are two styles of Champagne
glasses that will be used when you are served Champagne.
If the champagne glass used is bowl shaped it
is called a coupe,
A Champagne coupe.
Photograph courtesy of DIVA007
If the Champagne
glass used is tulip shaped then, it is called a flûte.
Photograph courtesy of
(Rose) from the House of Veuve Cliquot. Photograph by courtesy of by Wesley
Pink Champagne became popular ten or fifteen years
ago or so, and it has been marketed well though it is in no way any different
to white champagne.The Champagne region
is the only AOC/AOP wine-producing region in France allowed to mix a white wine
with red wine to give it its rosé color. Try that with any other wine elsewhere
and you'd get kicked out of France, let alone Champagne. The red wine used is usually
Champagne method andusing the name
There are other excellent sparkling wines that
use the méthode champenoise, the Champagne
method. However, the European Union
bureaucrats have forbidden us all to use the words méthode champenoise outside the area of Champagne, even when the method of production and the
grapes used are exactly the same. The Champagne method is now called, outside
of Champagne, the méthode traditionnelle.All sparkling wines made with the méthode traditionnelle, with whatever grapes are chosen, have a second fermentation within the bottle; exactly the same process that gives the sparkle to Champagne. Other
excellent sparkling wines may be made the same way all over the world. They may
be made in France like the Crémants,
in Spain like Cave, in Italy like Prosecco, and in the USA and Australia where to
the horror of the French they sell many of their sparkling wines as Champagnes.
Still wines from the Champagne growing areas.
There are still wines made in the Champagne
growing areas. When you are in the area and have had enough sparkling wine, try
the reds, roses and whites from the Coteaux Champenois AOP wines
Champagne bottles, or copies of the Champagne
type bottle are recognizable on sight;. their official sizes begin from minuscule
and reach to enormous.
Un Quart or a Quart Bouteille - A quarter bottle; the smallest Champagne bottle
made and it is only used in France
for Champagne. The contents are one-quarter of a standard 750 ml bottle; that
is 187.5 ml.
– A standard
bottle 750 ml
Magnum – Not a gun;
rather a double-sized bottle forwith
the same name but in different shapes used for Bordeaux wines and Champagne.
Both bottles contain 1.5 liters.
courtesy of PelgrimsPlekke.
Jéroboam– Jeroboam; there are three differently shaped
Jeroboam bottles. One Jeroboam is for Champagne,
another for Port and yet another for Burgundy;they all hold the same 3.1 liters like a Marie-Jeanne from Bordeaux.
To complicate matters, a Jéroboam, is
also the name used for a 4.5-liter, a 6 bottle size used for Bordeaux wines.I have no idea why the same name is used for
different sizes and after checking around it appears that no one seems to care
too much either.
The name Jéroboam comes from the Old Testament. Then
Jeroboam a local revolutionary who became King of Israel after the Kingdom
ofIsrael split into two in the 10th
Century BCE. The division followed the death of King Solomon and created the
Kingdom of Judah led by Rehoboam with two of the twelve tribes in the South and
Jeroboam, now King of Israel, with the other ten tribes in the North. At that
time wine, though not champagne, was plentiful, though the information on the
standard amphora size that King Jeroboam preferred is scanty. However the
gives thesizes of Roman amphora at about 26.2 liters.
largest bottle in commercial production. The Melchizedekholds the contents of 40 regular bottles that’s 30
liters.This bottle is a fairly new
addition to the world of giant champagne bottles; however, do not try and pick
one up unprepared. Including the glass a fullMelchizedekbottle ofChampagne will weigh
over 100 kilos (63 lbs).
The Melchisédech is produced by the Champagne House Maison Drappier in Reims.I imagine
that a Melchizedek is what you may be offerred when you walk into Maison Drappierand ask to buy a regular
bottle of their Champagne; then a salesman or saleslady says “can we jumbo size
that for you?”For about 2,000 Euros, plus the cost of shipping, you
may charge your credit card and have a bottle delivered overnight.
In the Old Testament Melchizedek brought bread
and wine to Abraham; however Maison Drappier, on
their web site, has Melchisédechas a King of
Babylon. That is possible as within the various traditions, there are a number
of Melchizedeks, some were good, some were bad; however, as far as I know none
Where Champagne comes from.
region of Champagne-Ardennes produces most of the Champagne grapes. However,
new regions were made out of old provinces and agriculture knows no boundaries.
So Champagne grapes also come from parts
of the department of Aisne in Picardie, Meuse in the Lorraine, Seine-et-Marne in
the Ile-de-France, and Yonne in Burgundy. All these departments were part of
the traditional province of Champagne.
Visiting the Abbey of Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers where it all began.
The Abbey of Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers was destroyed during
the French revolution, but much of it has been rebuilt by the
Champagne house of Moët and Chandon, which together with the Champagne House Dom
Perignon is part of the luxury product group LVMH.
The rebuilt Abbey of Saint-Pierre
Photograph courtesy of
The Abbey is in the department of Marne in the region of Champagne-Ardennes. To visit the village ofHautvillers, population about 1,000,is 145 km (91 miles)from
Paris,that is one and a quarter
hoursby TGV fast train and just under
two hours by car. The
English language website for the Tourist Information Office in Hautvillers is: http://en.tourisme-hautvillers.com/index.php
Just 6 km
(4 miles) way from Hautvillers is Eperrnay, 5 minutes by car and 15 minutes by
bus. This is the second most important Champagne trading center with many Champagne House headquartered here. For Champagne tours
in Epernay see their French language website
at http://www.ot-epernay.fr/. With
Google or Bing translate it will supply much of the information you may need to visit.
For the largest champagne trading center visit Reims and its 13th century Notre-Dame Cathedral, where most of the Kings and Queens of France
were crowned.Reims is about 142 km (89 miles) and 1 and a
half hours by car from Paris, and 45 minutes by TGV fast train.
If you are coming or going to Reims by way of the Abbey of Hautveillers take the train fromEpernay; Epiwnay to Reims is 28 km (17 miles), about 30 minutes by car and22 minutes by
train. Reims is a beautiful City and theReims Tourist Information Office offers a great dealof information. Their English language
English language web site for the whole of the Champagne Ardennes region is http://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/