Updated: Mar 6
Looking to learn the fundamentals of Champagne, France's world-famous sparkling wine? Whether you're a wine connoisseur or just curious about the bubbly beverage, this guide will provide you with a concise but thorough understanding of what makes Champagne so special.
Champagne is a type of sparkling wine that can only be made in France's Champagne region, which is about 90 miles (144 Km) east of Paris. Click here to plan your trip.
Champagne production spans over 34,000 hectares and includes 319 villages. Since 1927, this entire region has been referred to as the Champagne appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC).
The Sub-regions of Champagne
The region is divided into four main sub-regions: Montagne de Reims, Marne Valley, Côte des Blancs, and Côte des Bar, each with its own distinct topology, soil, and subsoil.
Each of these sub-regions has a different soil type and micro-climate, which influences how the aromas in the grapes develop and how the wines will taste.
The Secret Ingredient Behind Champagne's Pop: The Unique Terroir of the Region
Champagne, located at a northern latitude of 49°N, has a cooler climate than any other French wine region. Its shorter growing season makes it difficult for grapes to ripen fully, resulting in a wine with a unique taste characterized by a refreshing tartness.
Fortunately, the Champagne winemakers discovered secondary fermentation, which enabled them to create a wine that not only complemented the region's cool climate but also brought out its distinct flavours. The result is the world-famous sparkling wine we know as Champagne.
Champagne's unique taste is not only because of the weather and the grape varietals but also because of the landscape and soil. The region's gently rolling hills are covered in fine-grained chalk that helps the roots of the grapevines absorb minerals and drain water well. This type of soil also allows the vines to reach deep water resources underground for healthy growth.
The Secret Behind Champagne's Grapes
Champagne is made using three main grape varieties- Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.
Each of these grape varieties contributes its own unique characteristics to Champagne. For instance, Pinot Noir provides a good weight and meaty aromas, Pinot Meunier gives acidity and fruitiness, and Chardonnay adds elegance and finesse to the wine.
Surprisingly, most people are not aware that Champagne can be made using four additional grape varieties - Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane
Exploring the Different Styles of Champagne
Champagne can take on different forms depending on its production method. The various Champagne styles are characterized by differences in colour, sweetness, base grape varieties, and whether they are a single vintage or a blend of several (Non-Vintage).
Blanc de Blanc
The French phrase "Blanc de Blancs" signifies "white of whites." In the Champagne region, this denotes that the wine is made solely from Chardonnay grapes, offering a bright and refreshing taste with aromas of lemon and apple.
Blanc de Noirs
Blanc de Noirs is a term that refers to a Champagne made entirely from black grapes like Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This type of Champagne typically boasts fruity flavours of strawberry, stone fruit and white raspberry. With minimal contact with the grape skins, Blanc de Noirs wines may appear slightly darker or yellow in colour.
Rosé Champagne is known for its beautiful pink hue and fruity flavours. It can be produced in two different styles: Blending Rosé or Rosé de saignée.
Blending Rosé is produced by blending a small amount of red wine (Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier) with white wine (Chardonnay) to obtain the red colour. The red wine provides pure fruits like strawberries and raspberries.
The production method for Rosé de saignée involves a brief maceration of the juice with the red grape skins, typically lasting 8 to 12 hours or longer until the desired colour is achieved. Following this maceration, the musts are separated from the skins through a process called "bleeding."
Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne
The primary distinction between vintage and non-vintage Champagne is not in their age but in their method of production.
Vintage Champagne is crafted exclusively from grapes harvested in a single year, while non-vintage Champagne is a blend of grapes from different years.
Champagne producers achieve a consistent house style by blending different vintages to create non-vintage Champagne every year. An outstanding harvest will typically result in a richer, fuller Champagne, making it a vintage year. Champagne can only be labeled as vintage if it is made entirely from grapes harvested in the specified year.
From Bone-Dry to Sweet Bliss: Decoding the Sugar Levels of Champagne
Champagne can range in sweetness from very dry to very sweet, and the terminology used to describe these levels can be a bit confusing. There are 7 levels of sweetness of Champagne with Brut being the most common.
Sip, Savor, and See: Exploring the Best of Champagne's Cities
Nestled in the heart of the Champagne region, Epernay, often referred to as the Champagne capital, played a crucial role in establishing Champagne as the quintessential drink of luxury and celebration. Visitors to Epernay can explore many Champagne houses, such as Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, and Mercier.
If you're keen on discovering the smaller Champagne villages, Epernay is an excellent base. From here, you can easily access quaint villages such as Hautvillers, the birthplace of Dom Perignon, and Ay, renowned for its scenic streets and world-famous Champagne houses like Champagne Ayala, Champagne Bollinger or Champagne Deutz.
In Epernay itself, take a leisurely stroll down the Avenue de Champagne, visit the impressive Champagne cellars, and sample the signature sparkling wine of the region. With its blend of history, culture, and gastronomy, Epernay promises a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors to the Champagne region.
Travelling between Epernay and Reims is hassle-free and convenient thanks to the regular train service that connects the two cities. The journey, which lasts approximately 35 minutes, allows you to explore the historic city of Reims or discover another sub-region of Champagne without difficulty.
Known as the city of coronations, Reims has a rich history that dates back to Roman times and it played an important role during the coronation of French kings. Its most iconic landmark is the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, where 33 French kings were crowned.
The city is also known for its Champagne houses, such as Taittinger, Pommery, and Veuve Clicquot, which offer tours and tastings to visitors.
Troyes is a city that boasts a vibrant and varied palette of colours! Troyes is a place that is steeped in history, heritage, and culture, with a landscape and people that are both fascinating and diverse.
The heart of Troyes, which is shaped like a champagne cork and bears the marks of both Gothic and Renaissance styles, is a reflection of its past as the capital of the Counts of Champagne. Visiting Troyes is like stepping back in time to the medieval era, with a colourful atmosphere that is filled with the heady aromas of the Great Fairs of Champagne
The Champagne region of France is a magical place where the art of winemaking has been elevated to a level of pure excellence. From its chalky soils to its unique climate, everything about this region is perfectly suited for producing the world's finest sparkling wine.
I hope that this guide has given you a better understanding of the Champagne region and its many wonders. If you are interested in learning more about this region, its wines, and its culture, we encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on social media.
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