Introduction to Champagne
This week we are talking about Champagne! As always let us start from the beginning and let us define what Champagne is. Before being a wine, Champagne is in fact a region within the historical province of Champagne in the northeast of France. It is located about 100 miles (160 km) east of Paris. The main grapes grown in the region include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. This area was once an inland sea that covered most of France until about 70 million years ago and because of that, the sub-soil contains huge deposits of sea creatures that were eventually turned into chalk formations. This unique soil allows roots to dig deeply, holding moisture, while allowing any excess of water to drain away. Still wines from this region were known before medieval times. The Romans were in fact the first to plant vineyards here, but it is only in the 18th century that this area became famous worldwide for the wine it produces. It is important to point out that to label a sparkling wine a Champagne, it must be produced in this region, even if we commonly refer to sparkling wine using the word “champagne”.
There are a lot of legends and stories about how the first sparkling wine was made, but today we will focus mainly on what the resulting method of production is rather that trying to discover its origin. Wine made in this region is produced using the famous Méthode Champenoise (or Méthode Traditionnelle). Let us take a closer look to what makes it so special and unique. It all starts with the production of a regular still wine. At this point the magic begins. The wine is bottled with some additional yeast and sugar for a minimum of 18 months. During this time the yeast in the bottle will transform the sugar into alcohol and CO2 increasing the preassure and creating the famous bubbles that we all love. Before the wine can actually be sold though, there are still a couple of steps that need to be taken. The bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage (or riddling), so that the spent yeast settles in the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice cap containing the yeast, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Before finally recorking the bottle, some wine from previous vintages as well as additional sugar is added to maintain the level within the bottle and adjust the sweetness of the finished wine. Depending on how much sugar is added, the resulting wine will be labled in one of the following ways:
- Extra Brut (0-6 grams/Liter sugar)
- Brut (0–12 g/L sugar)
- Extra Dry (12–17 g/L sugar)
- Dry (17–32 g/L sugar)
- Demi-Sec (32–50 g/L sugar)
- Doux (50+ g/L sugar)
I hope you enjoyed this article and as always if you have questions I will be more than happy to answer. If you would like to learn more on how to pair Champagne with food, read our Wine and Food Pairing Guide.