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IF ever I were to be shipwrecked on a desert island with a crate or two of plonk I can say without a second’s hesitation that my drink of choice would be champagne.

The difficult part of the decision would be selecting which champagne to be stranded with.

Last week that decision became a little clearer, however, with the first showing in Perth of Perrier Jouët’s prestige wine, the 1996 Belle Epoque.

This wine was first released in 1969, but its story is as much about the bottle. In 1902 Henri Gallice discovered a decorative bottle designed by art nouveau Parisian master glassmaker, the artist Emile Galle.

His bottle has become synonymous with not only Perrier Jouët but as a symbol of the style referred to as art nouveau. The bottle, with its painted anemones, is striking and hard to forget once you have held it in your hand.

Striking as the bottle is, it remained in a cupboard for 60 years after its creation, before finding its way to Perrier Jouët. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

 

 

Perrier Jouët 1996 Belle Epoque rrp $180 19.5/20

 

This wine is simply stunning, and although you might need to see the bank manager to purchase some, you will not be disappointed. It’s my wine of the year … well, so far anyway.

Restrained with complex and layered aromas, mineral notes entwine with cashew and brioche characters. The palate has explosive acidity, with powerful rich fruit and is still very tightly bound. Finesse and complexity run rampant throughout the wine. Waste no time in grabbing a bottle of this.

 

 

Perrier Jouët 1997 Belle Epoque Rose rrp $190 19/20

 

This one’s delightful salmon colour will entice you. It is so alluring. The wine displays rose petals, wild strawberries and redcurrant aromas with a mushroom note. The palate has plenty of fruit weight and expressive mid palate richness. This is quite a big wine, yet shows a delicate finesse and enormous length.

Champagne can sometimes get a little confused with our ‘sparkling wines’, so I will summarise the three methods used in producing wines with fizz. However, only the traditional method can be used in the making of champagne.

The traditional method, or what was termed ‘methode champenoise’, is the process that creates the wines that command price tags like a Dalkeith mansion and is used almost exclusively within the Champagne district of France.

The transfer method is a second technique used in the production of quality sparkling wines. It produces wines that are priced more in the range of an apartment in Subiaco.

A third method, which is used here in Australia, is the tank or Charmat method, which is a more cost effective way of producing fizz and giving us wines at price points that are more like pitching a tent in the camp grounds of Rottnest Island. The practice of adding or injecting carbon dioxide has all but ceased these days, as the cost of production for the other methods has dramatically decreased during the past decade.

Each of the wines that becomes champagne begins life the same way – as a finished wine termed the ‘base wine’. A concoction called ‘liqueur de tirage’ is added to the base wine while it sits in large stainless steel tanks. This concoction is a mixture of sugar and a yeast culture and is the vital step in the champagne process, as it begins the imperative secondary fermentation.

In the traditional method the base wine is immediately bottled with a simple crown seal after the addition of the ‘liqueur de tirage’. During this period the base wine will create carbon dioxide, which is released into the wine. Much happens to the wine during this period under the crown seal – the sugar is slowly consumed and the yeast eventually dies, finishing fermentation.

As a general rule, a longer fermentation will give you a wine with tiny bubbles and much more complexity.

The next phase of traditional method is ageing. The dead yeast cells sit along the bottom of the bottle, and while they don’t look like they are doing much, the yeast cells are adding flavour and the texture, which will form a major component within the finished wine.

The next stage of the traditional process is to get rid of those cloudy dead yeast cells in the wine. This task is called ‘riddling’ and although many now employ vast machines to undertake this process, there are still a great number of champagne houses that employ riddlers.

Each day over a six to eight-week period the riddlers gently shake the wine in racks, starting at an angle of around 45°, until the bottles are upside down and the yeast cells have collected in the neck of the bottle.

With the yeast cells now in the neck of the champagne bottle the next process, called disgorgement, simply gets the plug out.

The neck of the bottle is submerged in an icy cold bath of brine and is frozen, the bottle is turned upright quickly and, at the same time, the crown seal is whipped off.

The pressure that has built up forces the yeast plug to vacate the wine, leaving a sprightly clear wine ready for the final process, the addition of the dosage.

This is the topping up of the wine with a shot of the individual champagne house’s secret blend of ‘liqueur d’expedition’, a sugar and wine mixture specific to the style of champagne being made.

Then simply pop in a cork and you are now ready to celebrate with your finished wine.

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