Monday, 16 August 2010

And so to France...

After last year's mostly successful camping trip to Cornwall, where the highlight was Rick Stein's St Petroc cafe, this year we decided to hear where the weather was slightly warmer. So, armed with a big tent and a vat of sun cream, we headed to the land of croissants, fromage, and, of course, wine.

Our destination was Argeles sur Mer, a Coastal town in Catalunya, close to the Spanish border, but we broke the trip up with a short stay in the Champagne region. And, of course, we did indulge in some champagne tasting. I'm definitely not a champagne connoisseur, not by a long way, but the whole process was absolutely fascinating.

I'll see if I can summarise the process from memory, as we did the tasting after the tour of the cave. Champagne is made up of 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot meunier. These are harvested and pressed separately, and then tasters perform the complicated problem of choosing how to blend the grapes. The bottles are then filled with the blend and left to ferment, between 18 months and three years. Here's a good tip I learned: you can keep a bottle of champagne (or any wine I suppose) for as long as it was fermenting in the cave. So, if a bottle has spent three years fermenting, you can keep it for another three years.

Anyway, when the fermenting time is up, it's time to get rid of the sediment that has collected at the bottom of the bottle. This is either done mechanically, or by hand (for the really large bottles). The bottle is tipped and tuned, a little each day, until the bottle is vertical, neck down. Then all the sediment can work its way to the cork. Now here comes the really clever part- the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cork and sediment extracted, and the bottle is topped up and re-corked, ready to be labelled and sold.

As I said, I'm not a champagne connoisseur, but now I am an admirer.

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