CHAMPAGNE. Contrary to general impression, Champagne is made from fine vari eties of black and red grapes. Its "white" color is due to the fact that the grapes are pressed before the skins have had a chance to color the juice.
The grapes are sorted immediately after gathering and taken at once to the press house where they are again critically inspected during the weighing and then, with the least possible delay, pressed to separate the juice from the pulp.
The products of the first three pressings become first class wines. The subsequent pressings produce only an inferior article, generally used for local consumption.
This virgin wine is left standing in large vats to await fermentation—the process being instigated by the micro-organisms ("wild" yeast cells) contained in the "bloom" of the grape and carried into the juice when pressing. In fermentation, the natural sugar of the grape juice is transformed into alcohol and carbon-dioxide (gas). The latter escaping by the bunghole, produces the stage commonly called "boiling." As the weather becomes cold, the ferments gradually lessen their activity until the wine finally becomes clear and is in condition to be separated from its lees.
With the approach of the following spring comes the most critical operation— the one which tests the experience and ability of the wine merchant—the blending of the crude wines to suit the tastes of his clienteles in various countries. When the desired result has been obtained, the "cuyee" is said to have been formed and is ready for bottling.
A certain amount of cane-sugar is added to the wine and it is then put into new and carefully cleansed_bottles, which are corked as filled and taken at once to the cellars.
The return of spring again sets the ferments in action, transforming any natural sugar still left in the wine from the previous fall—and also the cane-sugar added—into alcohol and carbon-dioxide—but this time the gas cannot escape and instead mingles with the liquid, producing the "sparkle" for which champagne is famous.
But the development of the wine is not yet completed, for this last fermentation leaves a deposit or sediment to be got rid of. To accomplish this, the bottles are held in racks, head downwards at an angle of 70°, for three months or longer while the de posit slowly descends and collects on the corks. Every day during the entire period a specially trained cellarman gives each bottle a slight twisting motion to assist its descent.
When all the sediment has collected on the corks, the cellarman takes each bottle separately and removes the cork, or undoes the iron clasp holding it, according to the method employed, and the rush of the carbonate gas forces the deposit out with a loud report. The wine is thus left absolutely clear and sparkling.
By the most modern process, the necks of the bottles, when ready for the extrac tion of the sediment, are placed to a depth of about three inches in a refrigerating bath to congeal the deposit and thus facilitate its expulsion.
The second fermentation has removed all taste of sugar, and for a perfectly "dry" wine, the cellarman refills the empty space in the neck of the bottle, left by the with drawal of the sediment, with unsweetened "dosage" and recorks the bottle as it is. Nearly all the champagne sold is though sweetened more or less—the extent varying with the preferences of the different countries to which it is to be shipped—and conse quently the dosage usually consists of sugar dissolved in "champagne" brandy and variously flavored. A keen palate can often clearly detect the flavors of the dosage— as of apricots or other fruits.
The bottles go next to underground wine cellars to mature. The cellars or "caves" at Reims consist of miles of tunnels cut in and through old chalk pits. The length of time required to attain proper maturity depends to a certain extent on the quality and characteristics of each year's vintage. An average of eight years is generally con sidered sufficient.