Saumur, located right on the Loire River, is a city in France known for its horses (the Cadre Noir is based at the National Riding School in Saumur, along the lines of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna) and its wine. Saumur-Champigny is (amongst connaisseurs, at least), one of the better known appellations of the Loire Valley, but Saumur is also home to a large number of sparkling wine houses, most notably making wines in the appellations of Crémant de Loire and Saumur Brut.
At Bouvet-Ladubay we were lucky enough to have a course on how to taste sparkling wines, with the well-known regional enology consultant Jean-Michel Monnier. The specificity of sparkling wines require special treatment to fully appreciate them in a ‘professional’ style tasting (otherwise, please, I beg you, just keep enjoying your champagne like you always have! that’s the point, right?).
We discussed different types of glasses and their merits (those shown above, and these newer models are definitively the best), and the very real importance (for once) of specific glasses because champagne flutes are laser-treated to create little imperfections in the bottom on which the bubbles can form!
Swirl? Nope, for once there’s no need since the bubbles carry with them all the volatile aroma molecules as they rise in your glass and then release them at the surface.
(here we see the sometimes-disasterous effects of the enormous pressure build-up inside a bottle of bubbly. the bottle in the center of this storage rack at Langlois-Chateau during the aging process)
In sparkling wine the most important aromas to watch out for are the primary aromas, coming from the fruit and the terroir – so fruityness, herbacity, floral, minerality (I really should make a vow not to employ this term until I find a satisfying working definition, but here it is). The secondary aromas come from fermentation (that’s why they’re considered secondary – its an added layer to what the grapes supply on their own), and are expressed by yeasty, brioche-y, nutty, buttery, lactic aromas. Finally, there is even a tertiary bouquet, which comes from the aging of these wines (either in barrel [initial fermentation], or in bottle on the lees and later in the final bottle – see the process for making champagne outlined here) – oaky, toasty or vanilla aromas from the wood, or more subdued, complex versions of the secondary fermentation aromas (coming here from the autolysis of the yeast cells after fermentation has finished).