A VIN­TAGE FIND

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

first wine­maker in France to be­lieve that wine should be stored in bot­tles rather than in casks. Bot­tling is im­por­tant be­cause wine ages more suc­cess­fully in a bot­tle than in a cask. When mak­ing cham­pagne, how­ever, it is es­sen­tial that the still wine be en­closed in a bot­tle for the bub­bles to be con­tained.

Dom Perignon also pro­moted the age­ing of bot­tled wine in good cel­lars: in 1673, he had new cel­lars dug in or­der to store cham­pagne’s orig­i­nal vin­tages.

And Dom Perignon was the first to re­alise that a dou­ble fer­men­ta­tion process is es­sen­tial to turn still wine into bub­bly.

The Cham­pagne re­gion is among the cold­est wine-pro­duc­ing ar­eas any­where. By late au­tumn, when the har­vest and wine mak­ing are com­pleted, the low tem­per­a­tures in the re­gion halt the wine’s nat­u­ral fer­men- tation be­fore all the grape sugar has been pro­cessed. With warmer weather, gen­er­ally shortly af­ter Easter in this re­gion, a sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion be­gins, a process that does not oc­cur in wines from other re­gions in France.

Wine­mak­ers had to learn to con­trol this phe­nom­e­non be­fore still wine could be made frothy. Those who pro­duce cham­pagne to­day, fol­low­ing in Dom Perignon’s foot­steps, make their wine in au­tumn but hold off the bot­tling un­til early spring, when warmer weather in­duces fer­men­ta­tion.

Dom Perignon waited longer, even un­til late sum­mer, to al­low the sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion to ad­vance nat­u­rally as far as it could. He also re­alised that to guar­an­tee ef­fer­ves­cence, it was nec­es­sary to help na­ture along. Dom Perignon in­vented what is now the patented method for mak­ing cham­pagne: he added a mix­ture of al­co­hol and sugar that as­sured the suc­cess of the sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion.

This was the most sig­nif­i­cant of all the wine­mak­ing tech­niques he de­vel­oped, the sin­gle in­ven­tion with­out which cham­pagne could not have been pro­duced.

In 1718, in the book that may well mark the be­gin­ning of wine lit­er­a­ture in print, La Maniere de cul­tiver la vigne et de faire le vin en Cham­pagne, How to Man­age a Vine­yard and Make Wine in the Cham­pagne Re­gion, the au­thor, Canon Jean Godinot, an­other cleric from the Rheims re­gion, di­vulged ‘‘ the se­cret of the fa­mous Dom Perignon’’.

He claimed that on his deathbed, the cel­lar mas­ter of Hautvillers had asked one of his fel­low Bene­dictines to write it down: To a bot­tle of wine, add a pound of sugar, 5-6 pit­ted peaches, pow­dered nut­meg and cin­na­mon. Once the in­gre­di­ents are well mixed, add a half bot­tle of good brandy and bring the mix­ture to a boil. Strain the mix­ture through a fine cloth and bring it to a boil again.

Dom Perignon was the first to un­der­stand that a liqueur­de­ti­rage had to be added to the still wine to be cer­tain that the es­sen­tial sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion process would take place. In the Cham­pagne re­gion, just be­fore bot­tling, wine­mak­ers still fol­low Dom Perignon’s ex­am­ple: they add to the vat­ted wine a liqueur­de­ti­rage , now a mix­ture of yeast and a blend of wine and sugar. They un­der­stand what Dom Perignon in­tu­ited: the liqueur helps the resid­ual yeasts in the still wine to pro­duce the sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion.

The added sugar in the liqueurde ti­rage is con­verted into al­co­hol and nat­u­ral car­bon diox­ide gas. When th­ese are trapped inside a bot­tle, the wine be­comes ef­fer­ves­cent. The process has since been patented as la meth­ode cham­p­enoise and is of­fi­cially recog­nised as the only means of mak­ing true cham­pagne.

In 1674, The Art of Fine En­ter­tain­ing pro­nounced cham­pagne ‘‘ the hottest thing’’, and added that it was ‘‘ the most de­li­cious of drinks, next to which all oth­ers taste like plonk’’. Small won­der that, in no time at all, peo­ple all over Europe be­gan to share the con­vic­tion that a spe­cial oc­ca­sion be­came truly spe­cial on­ly­with the pop of a cork. This is an edited ex­tract from TheEssence ofStyle:HowtheFrenchIn­vent­edHigh Fash­ion,FineFood,ChicCafes,Style, So­phis­ti­ca­tio­nandGlam­our by Joan DeJean (Free Press, $29.95).

Main pic­ture: Michael Kenna

Heav­enly drop: Clock­wise from top left, grape pick­ers at Verzenay in Cham­pagne; the abbey of Hautvillers, birth­place of cham­pagne; Dom Perignon 1995; an 1891 poster by Pierre Bon­nard

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