What is champagne?

bread slicesChampagne is often described as smelling and tasting like a freshly risen loaf. That's because a double dose of yeast is added to give this famous wine its fizz and in doing so leaves a trace of its creamy flavours behind: méthode champenoise turns a very dry French white wine into a sweeter and more expensive sparkling version.

champagne frothA blend of three grape varieties is first made into a white wine base: Chardonnay provides the main crisp apple and lemon flavours, Pinot Noir grapes add a delicate strawberriness, while Pinot Meunier increases the immediate floral bouquet.

This first stage wine is bottled, but now never sold. It used to be. Up until the mid-seventeenth century the wine that won favour with the kings of England, Spain and France was still. Later technical advances in bottle making made sparkling champagne possible.

Adding a dosage of extra sugar and yeast to the base wine causes fermentation to restart and its by-product carbon dioxide gas to be captured within the bottle - strong thick-walled bottles must be used to maintain the resulting high pressures.  Opening the bottle allows the gas to escape and cause champagne's characteristic froth and bubbles.

This double fermentation wine making does require great skill and is reflected in champagne's price. Expect to pay up to £100 a bottle, but only £18 is required to buy one of the many supermarket own-label versions.

Co-op three winesPG Wine Reviews

Spar French Merlot

£5.50 Spar

Fantastic wine hiding in a non-descript bottle with a label that isn't exactly inviting. But if you can get past the fact that it's a blend of Merlots from various areas across France and a blend of wines from various years then you're in for a surprise: a tumbler full of flvaours including blackberry, raspberry, sloe and liquorice. There's a lot going on for £5.50.

Luis Felipe Edwards Chilean Rosé

£5.99 Majestic

Another decent wine hiding behind the 'this is a blend' label. No hint of the grape varieties but the result is a lightly fruity wine with hints of strawberry.

The Siren South African Shiraz Grenache 2014

£5.99 Co-op

Chocolate and sour cherry flavours.

Mud House New Zealand Pinot Noir 2013

£12 Asda, £14.99 Majestic, £10.99 when bought in case of 6 from Tesco Wine by the Case

Cherry and bramble flavours with a background of woodiness.

Olim Bauda Italian Barbera D'Asti Superiore 2010

£29.99 Virgin Wines

A big chewy wine with juicy cherry and damson flavours.

This article also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on MatureTimes.co.uk