The Ultimate Champagne Guide
Champagne is a sparkling wine that is produced in the Champagne region of France. It is perhaps the most well-known and sought after sparkling wine in the world, and has become synonymous with celebration and, of course, luxury.
The Champagne region is located in the north-east of France, and is known for its cool climate and chalky soils. The main grape varieties used to make Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, as a blend in varying quantities, or on their own.
Champagnes made from Chardonnay only, and some other permitted white grapes are called "blanc de blanc" Champagnes.
There is also "blanc de noir", a Champagne made from red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
How Champagne is made
The process of making Champagne is known as the "Champagne method," or "méthode champenoise." It involves a series of steps that are carefully followed to produce the desired sparkling wine.
The first step is to press the grapes to extract the juice, which is then fermented to create a still wine. This wine is then bottled and a small amount of sugar and yeast is added to the bottle. The bottle is then sealed and left to age for a minimum of fifteen months, during which time the yeast ferments the sugar, creating bubbles and CO2.
After the ageing process, the bottles are placed in a chilled room for a period of time, known as "rémuage." During this time, the bottles are rotated by hand to encourage the sediment to collect at the neck of the bottle. The bottles are then opened and the sediment is removed through a process called "disgorgement."
Finally, the Champagne is topped off with a "dosage," which is a mixture of wine and sugar that determines its sweetness. The bottles are then corked and labeled, and the Champagne is ready for consumption.
What is a Brut Champagne?
Brut means "dry" and there are various levels in a Champagne, depending on its sweetness. Sugar is added three times in the course of making Champagne. The first is to raise the alcohol levels during the primary fermentation process. The second, is for the secondary fermentation, to produce the bubbles in the bottle. And at the end, to fine tune the sweetness, or the "dosage", as mentioned above.
So, depending on the sweetness, there are a number of grades:
- Brut Nature (the driest)
- Extra Brut
- Extra Sec
- Doux (the sweetest)
Rules and regulations for Champagne
While Champagne is often associated with luxury and celebration, it is also a highly regulated industry. To be classified as Champagne, the wine must be produced in the Champagne region using the Champagne method, and must adhere to strict guidelines set by the Comité Champagne
What is the best glass to drink Champagne from?
While the Champagne flute is synonymous with the drink, next time you crack open a bottle of good bubbly, try it from a standard wine glass. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results, giving you more of those gorgeous aromas.
And, if you're feeling adventurous, try decanting it for a couple of minutes before serving.
What is "Grower Champagne"?
Grower Champagne is a type of Champagne that is produced by a small, independent winegrower, rather than by one of the big Champagne houses. Grower Champagnes are made from grapes that are grown and harvested by the producer, and are often made in small quantities, while still employing traditional methods.
Grower Champagne is often characterized by its unique and complex flavors, which are influenced by the specific terroir of the vineyard where the grapes are grown.
It is generally considered to be more artisanal and a more authentic alternative than mass-produced Champagne, and is often, but not always, more expensive as a result. And it's not always better, either. But it does seem to be catching on over the last couple of years.
Take a look at our Champagnes and other Sparkling wines.