Apropos of Nothing
Every champagne is a sparkling wine: not all sparkling wines are champagne.
Champagne refers specifically to the sparkling wines made according to long-established and highly-regulated processes in Champagne, a province in Eastern France.
The Champagne region is so closely identified with alcohol that the words ‘Un champagne’ literally means ‘an alcoholic beverage’.
Along with Yorkshire pudding, Stilton cheese, and Parma ham, champagne is subject to the set of EU regulations called Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
No one outside of the Champagne region is entitled to use the word champagne, even as a color description, as Apple found out when it called its iPhone 5S ‘champagne-colored’.
The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the body that governs the use of the word champagne according to international rules of the appellation, is not shy when it comes to.
We will take a closer look at some world-famous champagnes by comparing two titans in Dom Perignon vs Ace of Spades.
Dom Perignon vs Ace of Spades?
Dom Pérignon is a vintage sparkling wine synonymous with champagne.
Ace of Spades is the colloquial name for a brand of champagne otherwise known as Armand de Brignac. Armand de Brignac (Ace of Spades) is made in the village of Chigny les Roses by the Cattiers, a family of vintners who has been making wine since 1763.
How is Dom Pérignon Made?
Dom Pérignon is made according to a method traditional to the Champagne region, the ‘méthode champenoise’, a process as laborious as it is expensive, which is why the finished product costs so much.
If you had visions of cherry-faced urchins given the day off school so that they can prance barefoot in vats of grapes, banish them now. Things have changed – radically.
Nowadays a harvest of Pinot Noir grapes is pressed – not crushed – by Coquard hydraulic presses programmed to mimic the action of the old vertical press, only with much greater precision and sensitivity, and a mechanism that uses gravity to perform a natural ‘retrousse’ (roll-up) of the pomace (a ‘gateau’ or ‘cake’ of skins, pulp, seeds, and stems).
Yeast is added to the Pinot Noir grape juice causing it to ferment into a base wine which is mixed in equal parts with a Chardonnay base wine (made from Chardonnay grapes) to create a ‘cuvée’, a blend or ‘assemblage’ (literally an assembly) of the two bases.
Now – and this is where the magic happens – the cuvée is bottled but, before it’s stoppered, some more yeast is added, along with a small quantity of sugar (the ‘liqueur de tirage’, an agent of diffusion or propagation).
The bottles are capped, trapping the carbon dioxide produced by this second fermentation, and laid flat for a minimum of nine years in Dom Pérignon’s cool, dark subterranean cellars.
(Side note: The Champagne region’s limestone-rich soil lends itself to the formation of caves and tunnels.)
The next step is a doozy.
Although the grape juice has been filtered in the pressing, there are still the lees – dregs, sediment (mainly dead yeast cells) – to be eliminated. To this end, the bottles are subjected to a process called ‘remuage’ or riddling.
Purpose-built racks called pupitres (desks) incline the bottles at an angle of 35° with the top pointing downwards. Pupitres look like scaled-up school desks with holes cut out of them.
Every other day the bottles are raised up, turned to the left one day, and turned to the right the next, then dropped back into the pupitres with the downward angle slightly increased.
After a couple of weeks, the bottles are pointing straight down and the lees have settled down into the neck.
You’ll be relieved to learn that for the most part manual riddling has been replaced by the gyropalette, a device that performs the task automatically.
You’ve probably guessed by now that there is still one step left: Now that you’ve isolated the lees, how do you get them out of the bottle?
disgorgement à la volée
In other words, manually. The bottle is inverted, opened with custom-made pincers, carbon dioxide forces out the lees plug, and the bottle is quickly turned right-way-up.
disgorgement à la glace
The neck of the bottle is lowered into a refrigerating solution at -27 degrees and the lees are trapped in an ice plug. Once the bottle has been uncapped, the plug is slowly pushed out by the pressure of the carbon dioxide in the champagne
Champagne made outside the Champagne region is not entitled to advertise itself as being made in the méthode champenoise – even if the process they employ is identical. Instead, confusingly, they must use the terms ‘traditional method’ or ‘classical method’.
How is Ace of Spades Made?
Armand de Brignac is made from a hand-picked selection of all three varieties of wine-grape: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. A typical assemblage is 40% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier, and 40% Chardonnay.
Only a fraction of the first pressing is bottled after being put through a traditional Coquart press.
The dosage is aged in oak while the cuvee is aged in a secure section of cellars so old that examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Roman architecture can be found in their depths.
Unsurprisingly, roll-up and riddling are still performed manually.
All five cuvées in the Armand de Brignac portfolio are blends of three vintages and three types of grape:
- Armand de Brignac Brut Gold is the ‘tête de cuvée’ or flagship brand.
- Armand de Brignac Rosé typically consists of 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay, to which is added a still red wine made from specially-grown grapes with an intense flavor profile.
- Armand de Brignac Demi Sec is a sweeter champagne whose typical assemblage consists of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier.
- Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay.
- Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs, the rarest of cuvées, is a 100% Pinot Noir.
What Are They Made Of?
Three varieties of grape go into the press:
Pinot Noir, is a species of red wine grape. Pinot means ‘pine’ (the fruit in each bunch is clustered in a way that is reminiscent of a pine cone). Noir means ‘black’, the color of the grape’s skin. Pinot Noir darkens the wine and enriches its bouquet.
Pinot Meunier (aka Schwarzriesling) is a red wine grape grown on a vine with a fine white down like flour on the underside of its leaves (Meunier means miller). Pinot Meunier gives the wine an acid edge that offsets alkalinity and brightens up the palate.
Chardonnay is a green grape used to make white wine. As well as adding a rich creamy smoothness, Chardonnay imparts light, fruity flavors to the wine, enhancing its overall texture and sweetness.
Small quantities of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Meslier are also included in the assemblage.
How Are They Different?
Apart from the obvious – taste, color, presentation, etc. – the crucial difference between Dom Pérignon and Ace of Spades is that Dom Pérignon is vintage champagne while Ace of Spades is not.
When you see the name of champagne prefaced with the letters NV, that means non-vintage.
The Difference between Vintage and Non-Vintage
To qualify as vintage champagne, it must meet two criteria:
- It must be made from grapes grown in the same year in a single season;
- It must be aged for a minimum of three years.
These stipulations add texture and complexity. The end result is a more ‘rarified’ product. To this end, vintages are only made when the grapes are of exceptional quality. Over a span of eighty-eight years, Dom Pérignon has produced forty-three vintages.
Non-vintage champagnes are made from a melange of grapes grown in different years.
Vintage champagnes are generally reserved for more auspicious occasions. Non-vintage is considered suitable for everyday celebrations.
How Are They Similar?
Both are high-end top-of-the-range champagnes among – if not the best – in the world.
Ace of Spades & Dom Pérignon both have an ABV of 12.5%.
Ace of Spades can be anything from light amber to gold to pale pink, depending on the style.
Dom Pérignon is pale yellow, deepening in hue the older it gets.
Ace of Spades ranges from $292 for a 750ml Gold Brut through to $612 for a 750ml Silver Blanc de Blancs.
An entry-level Dom Pérignon starts at around $185 a bottle. The most expensive — Dom Pérignon Rose 1959 — will set you back $84,700.
Taste & Flavor
Dom Pérignon has a bright spicy fruit flavor and a creamy texture or palate.
Armand de Brignac is both floral and fruity.
|Item||Ace of Spades||Dom Pérignon|
|Production Area||The French province of Champagne||The French province of Champagne|
|Taste||Floral and fruity||Bright, spicy fruit flavors|
|Price (per 750ml)||$300||$185|
|Color||Amber, gold, and pink||Pale to bright yellow|
How Are They Consumed?
Store it in a cool, dry place like the bottom of a wardrobe or the back of a cupboard.
Don’t put it in the fridge. At all. Ever. Instead, put it in a bucket on (not in) ice about half an hour before serving it.
When it comes to opening the bottle, wrap a napkin around the cork and incline the bottle upwards at a forty-five-degree angle. Wrap the fingers of one hand around the cork with your thumb on top. With your other hand, grasp the base of the bottle (the recess is there to accommodate your fingers) and gently twist (from the bottom, not the top). Make sure you’re aiming the bottle away from everyone, including yourself.
There’s some debate about whether champagne should be served in a fluted glass or a white wine glass. Proponents of the fluted glass maintain that the wider brim helps preserve the flavor of the champagne and makes the bubbles last longer, assuming of course that there’s still any left after more than a couple of minutes.
Champagne is carbonated, so don’t fill the glass to the brim right away. Rather, first, pour an inch or two, let the foam (or ‘mousse’) settle, then top it up to the two-thirds mark.
Don’t forget to enjoy and appreciate the ‘perlage’, the string of tiny little pin prick bubbles that rises up from the bottom of the glass. The smaller the bubbles, the better the quality of the champagne! (Don’t swish it around. It’s champagne, not brandy.)
Champagne should be reserved for special occasions, like being retrenched, getting your wireless printer to work, or finding out your cat isn’t pregnant, she’s just fat.
Most champagne isn’t vintage so there’s no point squirreling it away. Drink it.
Here’s a video from Forbes magazine
Alternatives to Dom Pérignon and Ace of Spades
Founded in 1772, Veuve Clicquot has a heritage and history every bit as rich as that of Dom Perignon.
Prices range from a budget-conscious 750ml bottle for $50 all the way through to a 200-year-old vintage for – wait for it – $40 000!
Exported to more than one hundred and twenty countries, this is the world’s third best-selling champagne.
Average price (before tax): $47 for 750ml.
Number one in France, tied for third place globally, Nicolas Feuillatte is the product of the Centre Vinicole, a union of more than eighty winemaking cooperatives and five thousand vineyards.
$37 for 750ml.
Perrier-Jouët produces three million bottles of its signature Belle Epoque label every year. It occupies fourth place in the world standings.
Average price (before tax): $53 for 750ml.
Which is the oldest, Dom Pérignon or Ace of Spades?
Dom Pérignon is the oldest – by a couple of centuries.
Which one is the most popular?
Ace of Spades sells about half-a-million bottles a year. Dom Pérignon sells ten times as much.
Why are they so expensive?
Are they, though? When you take into account the time, effort, expertise, and artistry that goes into their making, they’re actually priced quite reasonably.