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Getting to the bottom of a glass of Champagne

April 29, 2009 |  2:57 pm

Champers Let’s say you’re one of those rare wine lovers who can resist the many charms of Champagne long enough to wonder about it; like, what is Champagne, the place, like? What goes into making it? Who goes to the trouble of making it? What are they after? Why does it taste the way it does? And most important, how do they get all those bubbles into the bottle? 

The answer to many of these questions can be found on a fine new website called Champagneguide.net, authored by winewriter Peter Liem. (I must disclose that Liem and I both serve as correspondents for Wine & Spirits Magazine.) Three years ago, Liem decided to move to Champagne, becoming one of the only wine writers writing in English to do so currently. He settled in the village of Dizy, in a small flat nestled among vines and growers. Since then, by his own account, he has been "making a nuisance" of himself in the cellars and salons of the region, interviewing winemakers, tasting wines, taking meticulous notes and drawing very contemplative conclusions about the wines, the villages and the overarching style a given house aims for. The result is one of the more fastidious, comprehensive and useful tools in English you may ever have at your disposal for getting at the mysteries of what is otherwise a very mysterious region.

While still under construction, and under constant revision (of a possible 5,000, there are only about 100 handpicked Champagne houses profiled here, so Liem’s "updates" may never be finished), there is already an impressive amount of information on the site, usefully arranged. In most cases, the history of the domaine is explored, as well as an objective assessment of its desired style, what is found in a typical blend, which villages and vineyards it may come from, and how many vintages of the base wine – the still wine used to create the sparkling wine – you’ll find included in the non-vintage blend.

Extensive, detailed tasting notes of all current wines accompany the profiles – more than 600 in all – and they are routinely thrilling. “Its powerful depth is buttressed by firm acidity,” he writes about Tarlant’s Cuvee Louis Extra Brut, “and an intensely chalky minerality that persists throughout the finish, feeling vivid and almost forceful in its tenacity.” Liem’s notes break down the region’s wines with an effortless precision that just may make your next sip of bubbly something to ponder.

-- Patrick Comiskey

ChampagneGuide.net is available by subscription for $89 a year, about the cost of a fine bottle of vintage Champagne. A sample page can be found here:


Photo credit: Erik Unger / Chicago Tribune