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Does Champagne have to have bubbles?

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Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist2 / 2

FARGO — Did you know some Champagne doesn't have bubbles? Known as 'still' champagne, this is considered real champagne for two reasons:

• It originates from the Champagne region of France.

• It uses the same basic varietals — pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

The only thing lacking is the second fermentation that takes place in the bottle to create the bubbles associated with this popular wine.

Read point number one again: Champagne region of France.

Original champagne, from the Champagne region, which is about an hour and a half drive east of Paris, was produced with the intention of it being consumed as a still wine. While in storage over the winter months, the fermentation process stopped and began again when the warmer spring temperatures returned to the region.

Being in comparatively weak glass bottles at the time (1600s), bursting bottles were not an uncommon occurrence due to the carbon dioxide trapped within and raising pressure to burst the weakest of the lot.

Famed monk, Dom P'erignon, cellar master of the Abby of Hautvillers, solved the problem. Although the Benedictine monk is falsely credited with "inventing" champagne as we know it today, his contribution to champagne's fame is much greater and will be addressed in a future article.

Suffice to say that bubbly champagne wine, coming only from the Champagne region of France, grew in popularity to the extent that the entire region strains to meet worldwide demand for their excellent product. But the original champagne still exists, without bubbles, in the form of Coteaux Champenois of Champagne.

It is common for most champagne producers to make a small amount of still wine under the appellation Coteaux Champenois. While easily purchased in Champagne itself, very few if any bottles are exported to America.

What does the non-bubbly champagne taste like?

Without the months of resting on the Lees — the dead yeast cells remaining after the second fermentation — or the Riddling process where the bottles are turned and gradually inverted to remove the Lees, the drink lacks the rich, yeasty body. Still champagnes are very light, acid-driven and lively with a fruit-forward taste.

As you have probably guessed by now, with such limited production, it would likely border on prohibitively priced for the likes of me and many readers of this column.

I suggest trying something daring on your own. The basic varietals are one-third equal parts white pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, so try your own blending experiment to see if you can come close to something you would enjoy. I plan on trying it myself sometime in the not too distant future, the results of which I will gladly post in this column.

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