Champagne

Champagne

25th October 2022

Champagne, The Finest Sparkling Wine on the Planet

For good reasons, Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine on the planet. Yes, the Maisons de Champagne have done an excellent job at marketing their products as high-end, but Champagne is more than a name; its quality is unmatched. 

To understand Champagne, one must learn about the region where it comes from; the grapes used to make it, and the diverse styles that make the category so exciting. This is our quick guide to Champagne. The more you know about the famous sparkling wine, the more you’ll fall in love with it! 

What is Champagne, exactly?

Champagne is a place and a wine style. Only sparkling wines made in the region of Champagne, around Epernay and Reims in North-Eastern France can be labeled as such. This is one of the northernmost regions in the world, which means the weather is chilly, and even wine grapes struggle to ripen. It is in this extreme climate where fruit with the right acidity grows - the secret behind Champagne’s tart but balanced wines.

Champagne is not a type of wine, but many. The origin of the grapes determines the wine’s profile, and so does the selection of grapes used for each wine. Winemakers can produce white and rosé sparkling wine and label it as Champagne. Still, even these apparently straightforward categories vary depending on numerous factors, including the sweetness level and maturation period. 

The Region 

Champagne is no small region; around 15,000 people tend the region’s 34,300 hectares of vineyards spread across 319 Cru villages in four areas: 

  • The Montagne de Reims.
  • The Côte des Blancs et the Côte de Sézanne.
  • The Vallée de la Marne.
  • The Côte des Bar.

These sub-regions have distinct micro-climates and soil and are more suitable for growing one grape or another. The best fruit comes from seventeen Grand Cru and 42 Premier Cru villages, and producers sometimes name them on the label. Most Champagne is made with a combination of fruit from different sites, resulting in complex wines and incredible diversity. 

The Grapes 

There would be no Champagne without grapes. The well-known trio of Pinot Noir (covering 38% of the planted area), Meunier (32%) and Chardonnay (30%) make up most of vineyards. Other varietals exist, but they occupy less than 0.3% of Champagne’s vineyards: Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Pinot Noir adds a firm backbone to Champagne along with red berry aromas. Meunier is the region’s workhorse, and although not as refined as Pinot or Chardonnay, it is often used to give roundness to the wine. Chardonnay is the only major white grape in Champagne, and it adds floral and citrus scents, creaminess and minerality to the sparkling wine. 

The Champagne Method 

Champagne is all about the region and the grapes, but also about the labour-intensive and time-consuming process used to turn regular wine into sparkling wine: the Méthode Champenoise also known as the Traditional Method. 

Harvest and Press. It all starts in the vineyards. The grapes are picked and sent to the cellar. They are then pressed with vertical presses, ensuring only the purest juice is extracted. The region’s wine law limits the extraction to only 25.5 hectolitres of juice per 4000kg of grapes. 

Settling and Fermentation. The juice is then allowed to settle and sent to temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. In rare cases, producers ferment their wines in oak barrels, producing richer base wines. Either way, the result is a dry white wine called “Vin Clair.” 

Blending and Bottling. Produces blend the season’s wines by selecting wines from diverse vineyards and regions made from different grapes. They’ll also blend the wines with those from other vintages, resulting in extraordinarily complex ensembles. At this stage the wine is still not effervescent. Following the traditional method, producers bottle the wine with a pinch of sugar and a scoop of yeast, these three components are known as the “liqueur de tirage.”

The Second Fermentation. The bottled wine re-ferments thanks to the addition of the tirage, and since the carbonic gas generated during the process can’t escape, it is absorbed by the wine. The yeast dies and precipitates; at this stage, the bottles are aged on their side in a dim-lit cellar. Allowing the wine to spend time with the spent yeast known as “lees” is critical in giving the wine its creamy body and bready aromas. 

Riddling and Disgorging. After the wine has aged for some time, the producer must remove the sediments in the bottle. To do this, they turn the bottles, gradually tilting them to encourage the deposits to accumulate in the bottle’s neck. Finally, they’ll dip the upside-down bottles in a cold liquid to freeze the sediment, and in a swift (now mechanical) motion, they pop open the bottle, expelling the dead yeast. 

Dosage and Packaging. Once the bottles are disgorged, producers add sugar to achieve the sparkling wine’s final sweetness as well as top up the bottle with any lost wine, and they prepare the bottles to be shipped across the globe. 

Types of Champagne

The easiest way to categorise Champagne is by its colour. Regular Champagne has a pale to golden hue, while rosé Champagne gains its colour from a splash of red wine during the blending process. Still, there are other ways of identifying the most common types of Champagne. Wine made exclusively with Chardonnay is labelled as Blanc de Blancs and wine made with red grapes is a Blanc de Noir. 

And let’s not forget about Vintage Champagne, made with grapes from the same year! Most Champagne, though, is multi-vintage or non-millésimé. Then you have Grand and Premier Cru examples, made with grapes from selected sites. 

Sweetness 

  • Finally, we can categorise Champagne by its sweetness:
  • Doux - more than 50 grams of sugar per litre
  • Demi-sec - 32-50 grams of sugar per litre
  • Sec - 17-32 grams of sugar per litre
  • Extra dry - 12-17 grams of sugar per litre
  • Brut - less than 12 grams of sugar per litre
  • Extra brut - 0-6 grams of sugar per litre
  • Brut nature - (pas dosé or dosage zéro) less than 3 grams sugar per litre

Champagne for Every Occasion

We have just scratched the surface of what Champagne means regarding quality and diversity. The category is not what we would call inexpensive, but there’s no doubt Champagne is always worth its price. 
 
Champagne is the ultimate wine for celebrations and special moments, but it is also compatible at the table and will always rise to the occasion. If you give Champagne the opportunity, it will consistently deliver. If there’s something all Champagne has in common is that it never disappoints. 
 
 
 

 


Champagne Jean-Paul Deville
Carte Noire NV
£24.00  £28.20 (Save 15%)
Limited Stock: (1 btls)
Palmer & Co
Rosé Solera NV
£40.50  £44.60 (Save 10%)
Offer Exipres in 2 days 
Limited Stock: (0 btls)