A close friend of mine celebrated a birthday recently, so of course we had Champagne. I bought a nice bottle and was eagerly telling her that the wine had spent six years on its lees and, as such, had a very fine bead… Her polite but blank smile should’ve tipped me off, but she had to gently remind me that I wasn’t talking to one of my wine geek friends!
There are a few wine words here that get bandied around a bit, but one that might not be obvious jargon is Champagne.
Not all sparkling wines are Champagne… It’s a bit like saying all cars are Ferraris, or all cheeses are brie. Champagne is simply one type of sparkling wine, and comes from a specific place in France – called Champagne!
Of course, the good folk who sell Champagne have done such a good job marketing it that many use this as the general noun itself – a bit like hoover, or biro.
The next term is lees. This is a bit of wine-science term and is not only used in relation to sparkling wines.
The word is used to collectively describe any dead yeast cells or grape particles that remain trapped in the juice as it’s fermenting before it goes into the bottle.
If juice/wine spends a long time in contact with these lees (which in large amounts take the form of a wet paste, or sludge – attractive, no?), it can take on some of the textural characteristics of the lees – in a good way.
It makes the wine creamier, thicker, richer. But this only becomes apparent after at least a year, so some patience is required!
Finally, let’s talk bead. This term is exclusive to sparkling wines, and is simply a different way of referring to the bubbles in the wine.
A fine bead means you’re sipping quite small, delicate bubbles, which create a smooth sparkling wine that caresses the palate like silk. A coarse bead indicates that bubbles in the wine are quite large and easily identified.
This results in a frothy, very sparkling wine that can have the texture of lemonade. Imagine the difference between mineral water and soda water – or Guinness and Red Bull!
Now, go and open a bottle of sparkling wine – your newfound knowledge is worth celebrating!