The Champagne region’s 35,000 ha of vineyards and myriad microclimates and terroirs offer near infinite blending potentials to create different styles of Champagne. An equally important component comes from long lees aging, a pivotal step in the method champenoise process.
The yeasts cells that create Champagne’s beautiful limelight bubbles (a process called Prise de Mousse) eventually die and settle in the bottle as lees. After two to four months the lees start to go through a process called autolysis. This slow breakdown of the dead yeast cells has near magical effects on the taste and aromas of Champagne.
Champagne’s hallmark aromas and flavours of arise during this crucial stage of bottle aging. For non-vintage champagne this lasts a minimum of 15 months and for vintage at least 3 years. During this time the fifth primary taste of umami develops.
The word ‘umami’ is derived from Japanese and means ‘delicious taste’ and is closely linked to dashi; a savoury stock made from edible kelp and fermented dried tuna. It is a recognized scientific term of the taste of glutamates and nucleotides. Because these compounds occur naturally in Champagne as a result of the yeast cells decaying during lees aging it is no surprise that connoisseurs recognize this flavour.
It is also important to note that all of the autolytic aromas of Champagne (biscuits, raw dough, acacia, umami) develop slowly and in balance with the other floral and fruity aromas because of the Champagne region’s cool cellars and the low pH of its base wines. Champagne’s savoury notes provide balance to its sweeter tones and help to make it one of the world’s greatest food paring wines popular the world over.
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