Two of the world's greatest wines, Champagne and Port, are both blessed with some of the greatest wine stories and have some of the industry's most wonderful traditions. And each has embedded within it a language that isn't shared by the rest of the wine world.
Oddly, they represent products that typically are not served with the meal. Most of the time, one is served before a meal, one is served after - although this could be changing.
Champagne's mystical properties revolve around how the winery gets bubbles into the bottle. Often it's viewed as a trick, but actually, it's not that hard to understand.
In the classic French method called m?hode champenoise, the wine is transferred to the bottles in which the wine will be sold. At that point, a bit of yeast and a dollop of additional sugar are added to each bottle, and then bottles are sealed with crown caps.
The second fermentation that ensues creates carbon dioxide and a bit more alcohol, but since the carbon dioxide cannot escape, it goes into solution.
The bottles are then placed on their sides - en tirage - to allow the second fermentation to develop a yeasty character in the wine. This can take as few as 6-8 months, or as long as a decade.
After the wine has gotten its requisite aging, the winery riddles the inverted bottles, progressively turning and shaking the sediment into the neck of the bottles, and then performs a d?orgement to remove the sediment of the second fermentation.
Then the winemaker adds a dose of sugar to each bottle, which is then sealed with a cork.
The special argot used to make bubbly parallels that of the language of Port, the after-dinner wine that's so special in its own right. Port's unique language is from Portugal, and thus is even less well known in the United States.
After the grapes are harvested in the fall, they are traditionally placed in a lagar, a large square vat into which step hardy men who stomp the grapes until its juice may be fermented.
Fermentation takes place in a special building called an adega at a quinta (the estate). At some point during the fermentation, the winemaker adds brandy (aguardente) to fortify the wine and stop the fermentation.
Then the wine is ready for aging in large 550-liter barrels called pipes. The wine is then transported down the Douro River to the port city of Porto for further bottle-aging in cellars called lodges.
Both Champagne and Port are widely adored by the British, and both regions of the wine world were targets of major investment by companies from the United Kingdom in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, the history of both regions carries many connections to England.
Both regions make less-expensive, non-vintage versions of their products, but in both areas wine lovers view as the best those wines that are vintage-dated.
Interestingly, the roles of these two cousin beverages are being reversed.
By tradition, Champagne is used to celebrate an event, and as such is usually served at the start of a dinner. And Port is served at the end, often accompanied by dessert.
But many creative party-throwers have inverted the concept, serving a Port before the meal (such as a 10-year-old Tawny Port) with balsamic-glazed appetizers. And then Champagne is served at the end of a meal, perhaps to pair with delicate cheeses.
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