Who doesn’t love Champagne? We know we do! But what is that makes Champagne so special?
The term Champagne is often used for any kind of sparkling wine, but as a matter of fact the term Champagne is has a protected status. Let’s have a look at the definition of Champagne wine;
Champagne noun [ U ]
an expensive white or pink fizzy (= with bubbles) wine made in the Champagne area of Eastern France, or, more generally, any similar wine. Champagne is often drunk to celebrate something.
Because of its protected status, only wine from the Champagne region in France can be called Champagne. So forget about those Prosecco’s, Cava’s, Franciacorta’s and other sparkling wines. We’ll dedicate another article about other sparkling wines in the future, but Champagne deserves its very own.
To better understand what’s so special about Champagne it is vital to understand a bit of the history. We don’t want to bore you with all the details and stories as there are so many and the internet is full of it should you want to learn more about it. Summarized, it comes down to this. The winemakers in Champagne by accident, invented a way to make sparkling wine. This happened as the wine fermented in the bottle and during the process carbon dioxide was trapped in the bottle. The glass bottles at that time were not strong enough to cope with the pressure that was built up inside the bottle resulting in many bottles that exploded in the cellar.
As time passed by and glass producers managed to provide stronger bottles, the Champagne production really took off and became popular among the high society in Europe where it became a status symbol to impress others. With the rise of the middle class, Champagne became even more popular and is often used for special occasions, festivities etc.
The Champagne Region in the north-east of France is north of the famous Burgundy region and near the Belgium border.
As with a lot of the other protected wine areas in France, the requirements for making Champagne are very strict, but those for Champagne seem to be among the most stringent.
Here’s a few:
Minimum 15 months of aging in the bottle (although most producers cellar their wines much longer)
Strict delimitation of the Champagne growing area
Approved grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, Petit Meslier (although the three main varieties used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier)
Method of pruning: Royat, Chablis, Guyot, Vallée de la Marne
Maximum permitted yields per hectare
Maximum permitted press yield
Minimum potential alcohol content of newly harvested grapes
Secondary fermentation in the bottle, and minimum periods of maturation on lees: 15 months for non-vintage Champagne and three years for vintage Champagne.
Obviously, all the above requirements are to ensure Champagne is and will remain a product quality, and also explains why your pocket’s always hurt when you go out and buy Champagne.
So far the technical and boring stuff.
So it’s clear that the process of making Champagne unique, together with the strict requirements the producers have to adhere to. This results in a great product with a unique taste.
We love the below quote from Madame Bollinger, one of the “grande dames” of French champagne (1884 – 1977)
“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”
Another great quote is from Dom Perignon, who made some very important contributions to the process of making Champagne, perfectly describes the magic of Champagne. This is what he said after his first try in making Champagne:
“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
As already mentioned before, Champagne is made predominantly of three varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Two of these varieties are actually blue grapes (usually made for red wine) but as the skin of the grapes only is exposed to the juice for a short while, giving a white juice.
A term you come across often in Champagne is “Blanc de Blanc”. This means that the Champagne was made using only white grapes whereas “Blanc de Noir” refers to blue grapes being used resulting in a white Champagne. Of course, there is also Rosé Champagne where the skin of blue grapes has been exposed to the fermentation process resulting in a beautiful pinkish wine.
Most Champagnes sold don’t show the vintage on the bottle. This is because majority of the Champagne is ‘non-vintage” and are actually a blend of various years. That’s great because it would actually produce a consistent quality year in, year out.
In exceptional, high quality years, some producers decide to produce vintage Champagne, also called Millesimé or “Cuvee de Prestige”. These are usually excellent vintages and made only few times per decade. The bottle ageing must be at least 3 years. The most famous vintage Champagne is probably Dom Perignon and this was also the first vintage Champagne ever launched. Other famous vintage Champagnes are Louis Roederer’s Cristal (transparent bottle) and Arman de Brignac Gold Brut (golden bottle). The prices of these Champagnes are much higher than their non-vintage counterparts.
Puff Daddy with 2 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal
There is a range of different types of glasses made for Champagne, and perhaps the most well-known is the traditional “flute”. We prefer to have our Champagne served in “Tulip” glasses, but we also know connoisseurs that stick to a normal wine glass (Bordeaux style). The most charming glass in our opinion is the “Coupe” which you don’t see that much anymore these days as it is not really optimal for sniffing and tasting sparkling wine.
This picture is from Leonardo di Caprio’s “Great Gatsby” movie in which they drink Champagne from coupes. Very charming, but not ideal for Champagne.
The Wine Junkies enjoyed a fine bottle of Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon 2004 vintage yesterday and enjoyed this special treat very much. We picked up great notes of toast and a beautiful nutty finish. It was an excellent, sophisticated Champagne which we could have every day (keep dreaming)!
We’d love to hear what’s your favorite Champagne and on which occasion you had it. Leave your story in the comments below.
The Wine Junkies