I ventured out into the Chicago slush last weekend to celebrate a milestone birthday with a longtime girlfriend whose life motto is “Celebrate everyday with Champagne,” which has to be one of the best I've ever heard! Because of her life motto and it being her birthday, I knew no matter where we dined that evening we would be celebrating with Champagne. True to herself, we had reservations for RM Champagne Salon a quaint little Speakeasy meets French Bistro that focuses on what else but Champagne (and food).
We greeted each other, checked in with the hostess and were immediately escorted to our table. As we sat down with menus in hand, we decided on the sparkling rosé, a Cava from Spain.
The first thing I noticed about my beverage selection besides the pleasing taste (not too tart, dry or sweet) were the bubbles floating in the glass. They just kept coming and coming; it was really very peaceful to watch the bubbles float to the top of the glass. As I watched the bubbles and sipped, I started thinking, do I really know anything about Champagne? I came up with two things:
- I don’t know anything about it, and
- No time like the present to educate myself.
Like most people, I turned to Google and searched for “The difference between sparkling wine and Champagne”. I found a great resource at winecountry.com, but I also reviewed previous posts from my coworkers on the subject, as well as the method of making Champagne. As I began to read, I figured I was going to be at my computer for a while, so I needed to set myself up for success with a drink and a snack.
Soon I had all of the questions I never knew I had about Champagne answered. I won’t rehash all of my research, but I will share with you some highlights I learned:
- Champagne the beverage is named after the region where it’s grown, fermented and bottled – Champagne, France.
- The grapes used to make Champagne are grown in a very specific way – mild climate, chalky and mineral rich soil.
- There are only seven type of grapes used to make champagne – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane.
- Making Champagne is a two-step fermentation process. First, it's fermented into alcohol, second it's bottled to trap the CO2 gas and that’s where the bubbles come from.
- All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The same grapes that are used to make Champagne are also used to make sparkling wine, however sparkling wine doesn’t have as many restrictions when being produced.
- The most popular regions for sparkling wine are: German (Sekt), Italian (Prosecco), Spanish (Cava), French (minus the Champagne region), and American.
I then realized we didn’t really live up to my friend’s motto, because what we actually had was Spanish sparkling wine and not Champagne. I believe that most people make the common mistake of thinking they are drinking Champagne when they are actually drinking sparkling wine. In the end, my research about what I thought I was drinking has made me realize that I’ve only barely scratched the surface to the world of bubbly.
There is so much to learn and varieties to try. If you, like me, find that your knowledge of sparkling wine and Champagne (and wine in general) are limited, I would encourage you to sign up for a wine education class here at The Chopping Block!
We also offer weekly Happy Hours at both locations where you can try two different select wines each week. We often have sparkling wine from our list as an offering, and our staff is more than happy to talk about it.
We're also offering a special wine class to celebrate Valentine's Day weekend: Sensual Wine and Food Pairing. Join us at one of these classes: