Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Burgundy's Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are made to a considerable extent in Burgundy, notably at Beaune, Nuits, and Dijon, and though as a 158 rule heavier and more potent than the subtile and delicate-flavoured wines of the Marne, still some of the higher qualities, both of the red and white varieties, exhibit a degree of refinement which those familiar only with the commoner kinds can scarcely form an idea of. At the Paris Exhibition of 1878 we tasted, among a large collection of the sparkling wines of the Côte d’Or, samples of Chambertin, Romanée, and Vougeot of the highest order. Although red wines, they had the merit of being deficient in that body which forms such an objectionable feature in sparkling wines of a deep shade of colour. M. Regnier, the exhibitor of sparkling red vougeot, sent, moreover, a white sparkling wine from the species of grape known locally as the clos blanc de Vougeot. These wines, as well as the Chambertin, came from the Côte de Nuits, the growths of which are generally considered of too vigorous a type for successful conversion into sparkling wine, preference being usually given to the produce of the Côte de Beaune. Among the sparkling burgundies from the last-named district were samples from Savigny, Chassagne, and Meursault, all famous for their fine white wines.

Burgundy ranks as one of the oldest viticultural regions of Central Europe, and for centuries its wines have been held in the highest renown. In the Middle Ages both the wines and vines of this favoured province passed as presents from one royal personage to another, just as grand cordons are exchanged between them now-a-days. The fabrication of sparkling wine, however, dates no further back than some sixty years or so. The system of procedure is much the same as in the Champagne, and, as there, the wine is mainly the produce of the pineau noir and pineau blanc varieties of grape. At the vintage, in order to avoid bruising the ripened fruit and to guard against premature fermentation, the grapes are conveyed to the pressoirs in baskets instead of the large oval vats termed balonges, common to the district. They are placed beneath the press as soon as possible, and for superior sparkling wines only the juice resulting from the first pressure and known as the mère goutte, or mother drop, is employed. For the ordinary 159 wines that expressed at the second squeezing of the fruit is mingled with the other. The must is at once run off into casks which have been previously sulphured to check, in a measure, the ardour of the first fermentation and lighten the colour of the newly-made wine. Towards the end of October, when this first fermentation is over, the wine is removed to the cellars, or to some other cool place, and in December it is racked into other casks. In the April following it is again racked to insure its being perfectly clear at the epoch of bottling in the month of May. The sulphuring of the original casks having had the effect of slightly checking the fermentation and retaining a certain amount of saccharine in the wine, it is only on exceptional occasions that the latter is artificially sweetened previous to being bottled.

A fortnight after the tirage the wine commonly attains the stage known as grand mousseux, and by the end of September the breakage will have amounted to between 5 and 8 per cent., which necessitates the taking down the stacks of bottles and piling them up anew. The wine as a rule remains in the cellars for fully a couple of years from the time of bottling until it is shipped. Posing the bottles sur pointe, agitating them daily, together with the disgorging and liqueuring of the wine, is accomplished precisely as in the Champagne.

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