Three Things You Didn't Know About Champagne

Posted March 09, 2015

Steve Unwin

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There are Champagne grapes you’ve never heard of.

When we talk about Champagne, it's a safe bet that Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier are the grapes that come to mind. But there are more that you almost never hear about. It’s like the fifth Beatle. The fourth stooge. The 80th Baldwin brother. I’m talking about Petit Meslier. Lil’ Mezzie, as he’s known to his friends, is a white grape that’s been around for ages and became prized for its ability to have great acidity even in warm years. A distant cousin of Chardonnay, he’s kind of a sickly little fella, so yields were always poor leading most Champagne houses not to use the grape. It’s still used as a component of Moutard’s Cuvée Six Cépages, and Duval-Leroy (shockingly) makes a varietal Petit Meslier in some years, so if you really want to experience the green-apple goodness of a forgotten grape, you have options!

Champagne was probably the product of a total screwup.

As far as wine producing regions go, Champagne is pretty cold. Sure it makes for great acidity, but it caused a rather troublesome issue beyond the growing season. See, wine is picked and fermented in the Autumn, so things could get pretty chilly pretty fast before things like central heating and Beyonce music videos. So cold, in fact, that it forced the yeast fermenting the wine to go dormant. As a winemaker at the time, you see that your Pinot has stopped its characteristic bubbling, and you think “whelp, time to bottle!” Problem is, when things start to warm up a few months later, the yeast wakes up, picks up where he left off, and all of a sudden your bottles start blowing up like something out of a Michael Bay movie. A few weeks later, after you’ve finished shoveling glass shards out of your cellar, you find a few bottles that didn’t blow up. You open one to celebrate a job well done, and POP… bubbles, baby. 

It's easier to pour Champagne in two parts.

Never deal with a glass full of unwieldy foam ever again! Next time you open a bottle of bubbles, just pour a little splash of it into everybody’s glass. Assure everybody that they’re definitely getting more, then wait for the foam to subside, which should only be a couple seconds. Now you can pour away with reckless abandon. That initial cushion helps to avoid the foam-up, and saves everybody precious sipping time!

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Steve Unwin (call him Stunwin) cut his teeth in the Washington Wine industry working in tastings rooms on the Red Mountain AVA. In NYC he became an early employee of the wine startup Lot18, where he would eventually earn his Advanced WSET cerification with distinction. Currently, he works with internet wine legend Gary Vaynerchuk creating awesome content all over the internets.

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