Champagne, the elegant sparkling liquid used to toast the future, celebrate milestones and to make young (and some older) ladies giggle. But did you know here in South Africa you are not really drinking Champagne unless you are enjoying imported wines.
South Africa's sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne in France is called MCC. In order for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne it is required to meet two criteria, firstly the wine must come from a specific, legally defined region in France and secondly the secondary fermentation that gives the wine its bubbles must take place in the bottles from which the sparkler will eventually be sold and poured into your celebratory glasses.
The process of making Champagne is known as Methode Champenoise which is a process of 8 steps. The first step is the press and is the same step used to make wine, where low in sugar grapes are used. A press takes approximately 4000kg of grapes to make 2550 litres of juice. The first 2050 litres are known as Cuvee and is considered the best juice. The remaining 500 litres are called Taille.
First fermentation will then take place, producing a wine that is very acidic and fermented completely dry. Then comes one of the most important steps of Champagne making know as the assemblage. Unlike wine-making where blending is sometimes frowned-upon, the technique of blending has been raised to an art for Champagne. This highly skilled task combines as many as 70 different base wines into a consistent house style Cuvee.
Once the wines have been blended the secondary fermentation takes place and this is what makes Champagne what it is. After the wine is blended it is combined with liqueur de triage, a mixture of wine, sugar and yeast that precipitates the fermentation. It is put into the bottle and topped with a crown cap, the same used for a beer bottle.
The bottles will now be stacked on their side with thin layers of wood in between. It is then key to keep the fermentation temperature low so that the bubbles formed are small and a forms a consistent bead. The bottles undergo remuage, the process of collecting sediment at the tip of the bottle by slowly rotating them over a period of 8 days up to 3 weeks until they are fully inverted.
Once fully inverted the wine will be aged for 15 months for non-vintage Champagne and 3 years for vintage Champagne.
When the wine is ready to be released or sediment removed the cap is submerged in a freezing brine solution so that it may freeze the sediment. The bottle is turned upright and the sediment and some wine is ejected. Finally, the wine is then topped up to its previous levels with liqueur d’expedition. The younger the wine the greater dosage it will receive of this mixture.
In South Africa, we make a form of sparkling wine called Methode Cap Classique or MCC. This is made using the original bottle fermenting process used for Champagne, only using different grapes.
These days, thanks to the quality of our grapes and expertise of our winemakers our MCC’s rival some of the best French Champagnes on offer.
Enjoy a glass of this festive drink over the coming holidays and appreciate the love, care and time that was spent on creating a masterpiece.
*Make sure your bubbles are served in the finest glassware this festive season! Shop Jenna Clifford Luxury Champagne Flutes, available from 1 November 2017.