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Not every sparkling wine is champagne 14 Mar '19

On the 8th of March, "International Women’s Day", I was at Cristina Ferreira's TV program in SIC to speak to women about wine. The invitation was the result of a surprise I made to my friend José Fidalgo in the same TV program, a couple weeks ago. I accepted the challenge and selected a range of wines to take with me, so we could have a wine tasting during the conversation, in which there were also present two women who also love wine, Bárbara Norton de Matos and Isabel Saldanha. During the conversation, champagne came up. I had taken, for the occasion, a bottle of Monte Cascas sparkling Reserva Bruto Távora-Varosa 2013. As soon as they saw the bottle, the word champagne came up. I took advantage of the occasion to explain that not everything that is sparkling wine is champagne. It is only considered champagne the sparkling wines that are produced in the wine region in France with that same name.

Today the region of champagne is the strongest "trademark" of sparkling wines in the world. But this recognition is not new. In 1676 it was mentioned in the work of Sir George Etheredge, "The Man of Mode", and quickly became a success, both in England and in France. Its effervescence turned it in an extravagant wine that awakened the 5 senses and, even at that time, it was very expensive, becoming a trend in the aristocracy.

Champagne production was always difficult, at first because it was uncontrolled and the producers didn't understand the mechanism of the second fermentation. At the time, during the harvest the wine would not finish the fermentation completely. When in Spring the wine was bottled, it ended up fermenting the sugars that lacked inside of the bottle. In Autumn, the bottles that held the pressure, caused by the liberation of carbon dioxide of the fermentation, without pouring or breaking, were effervescent.

It took about 100 years to understand the effervescence and to get to transform it in a controlled process of sparkling. This process consists of using a wine base with a complete first fermentation - that is, without any sugars left for fermenting - and to put it inside of special bottles, with special corks, capable of tolerating the pressure of a second fermentation, that occurs "trapped" inside the bottle. But for the fermentation to happen inside the bottle it is necessary to join to the wine base the yeasts and enough sugars to ferment and to result in effervescence and mousse that characterize a sparkling wine. The process is not simple, but the excellence of the final product is worthwhile.

Here, in Portugal, since the beginning of the XX century that the regions of Távora-Varosa and Bairrada are using the method developed in Champagne, to which we give the name of traditional method. And we already proved that we have capacity to claim our position in the exquisite world of sparkling wines. It may not be champagne. But it is sparkling... and a good one.

* the transformation of the present sugars in the grape must in alcohol, with release of carbon dioxide.


Hélder Cunha
The wine’s my life