All that Bubbles is not Champagne - A Guide to Champagne Enlightenment.
Champagne by DefinitionChampagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation.
It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France, from which it takes its name.
The primary grapes used in the production of champagne are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, in differing proportions.
Champagne’s Place in HistoryThe wine of the Champagne region is steeped in history dating back to the 400’s. Originally, it was the monks who tended the vines to produce the sacred wine drunk during Mass.
When Clovis, King of the Franks was converted to Christianity in 496, at his baptism he was anointed with champagne wine from the Champagne region. And so began champagne’s royal associations.
Between 898 and 1825 the kings of France were crowned in Rheims, in the heart of the Champagne region. At the accompanying festivities, champagne wine flowed freely.
The wines were appreciated for their flavour and superior taste, and were offered in homage to any visiting monarchs to the area. From the 12th century onwards, French Champagne became increasingly well-known and appreciated around the world. The choice of the rich and important, it was accepted as the wine for celebrations.
And then came the bubbles.
Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t Dom Perignon who devised the fizziness of champagne, rather it was the British in the 16th Century, who chanced upon the situation. They began importing barrels of green, flat wine from Champagne, France and then added sugar and molasses to start it fermenting. To match the results they got, they also devised the strong coal-fired glass bottles and corks to contain the wine.
The next momentous event in champagne history was on December 17th 1908, when the delimitation of the Champagne vineyard (setting out the geographic area) became official.
From then on, and still today, only grapes grown in Champagne could be used to make champagne, both adding to the value and prestige of genuine champagne, and thwarting inferior imitations worldwide.
Today, whatever the occasion, we have adopted the habit of celebrating with champagne. For sporting triumphs, anniversaries, weddings, achievements, boat christenings or as a symbol of success and celebration, champagne has become the go-to-drink.
Vintage or NotMost of the champagne produced today is ‘Non-Vintage’, meaning it’s a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages.
Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10–15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. Examples include Moet & Chandon Imperial Non-Vintage Champagne.
If the conditions of a particular vintage are favourable, some producers will make a ‘Vintage’ wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. This includes labels such as Dom Perignon Vintage Champagne, Louis Roederer Cristal Vintage 2002 and Moet and Chandon Grand Vintage Champagne.
Under champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage's harvest for the production of vintage champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage champagne. This ensures a consistent style that consumers can expect from non-vintage champagne that doesn't alter too radically depending on the quality of the vintage.
In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as ‘vintage’ since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.
ClassificationsChampagne is classified based on its level of sweetness. The sweetness of your champagne is determined by the amount of sugar that is added after the second fermentation.
Its classification is listed on the label.
• Ultra Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Zero, Brut Nature, Brut Sauvage: No added sugar. Examples include Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut.
• Brut: Nearly dry, contains no more than 1.5% sugar. Examples include Veuve Clicquot Brut, Taittinger Brut Reserve, Pommery Brut Royal, Louis Roederer Brut Premier, Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, Perrier-Jouet Brut Piper-Heidsieck Brut and Pol Roger Brut Reserve.
• Extra Dry/Extra Sec: Slightly sweeter, can contain up to 2% sugar.
• Dry/Sec: Can contain up to 4% sugar.
• Demi-Sec: Just sweet enough - can contain up to 8% sugar.
• Doux: Sweet, can contain up to 10% sugar.
• Cuvée de prestige: Blended wine that is considered the top of a producer's range. Examples include Louis Roederer Cristal, Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle and Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne.
• Blanc de noirs: White wine that is produced completely from black grapes.
• Blanc de blancs: White of whites that are made from Chardonnay grapes.
• Rosé: Made by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on their skins or by adding a red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée. Examples include Veuve Clicquot Rosé, Moet & Chandon Rosé Imperial, Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé and Dom Perignon Rosé.