vine to glass, the distinctive history, land , climate and practices of
the Champagne Region of France guide every step in the centuries old
process of creating this extraordinary sparkling wine.
This provenance is the reason why only the sparkling wines
produced in this region of France may be called Champagne.
Sparkling wines produced in other places around the world, even those created using the same production practices known as the “methode champenoise”, yield great results indeed, but not Champagne. In Italy, where climate and land are very different, wine growers produce sparkling wines called “spumante”. Spanish methods turn out fine wines known as “cava”. Even sparkling wines from other regions of France have different names, such as “cremant”. In an area near the town of Saumur, they are called “mousseux”.
America, fine sparkling wines are produced according to the methods
established and perfected in Champagne. While many achieve distinction in the marketplace, they are
very special terroir
uniqueness of champagne stems from the combination of the region's
terroir and the vines and grapes that can only be grown in specific
plots of land within the Champagne Region. These characteristics,
combined with specific process of champagne winemaking, “method
champenoise”, are strictly regulated and can only exist in one place
in the world to cultivate one, unique sparkling wine.
champagne making process has been carefully developed over hundreds of
transforming the fruits of the unique terroir of the region into
champagne the method covers everything from careful vine growing to the
special cork placed into the bottleneck.
the Champagne Region, the vines climb slopes crowned by woods.
Divided into numerous parcels, the vineyards are like gardens cultivated
by the growers. Each parcel is tended with the greatest care to
preserve the individual characteristics of the wine made from its
grapes. The work is meticulous and arduous in the northern
vineyards of Champagne.
care of the vines of Champagne is strictly monitored. Only three
systems of pruning are employed, each is designed to limit the yield of
the vines and to ensure that the grapes grow close to the ground.
winter until August, tasks of the growers include pruning, plowing,
tying, debudding and finally trimming. Much of this is done by
hand. Weather alone decides the time for the harvest, which will
vary according to village and grape varieties. Typically, the
harvest takes place in Autumn, a hundred days after the flowering of the
vine. At harvest time, grapes are carefully picked by hand and
sorted to remove any damaged fruit. Only the best bunches are
picked and as quickly as possible, they are dispatched to the region’s
large, low presses.
a generation, the vines of Champagne are replanted in order to guarantee
strong, high quality harvests. While older vines do exist, the
average age of a vine in Champagne is approximately 20 years of age.
the course of the 20th century, the selection of grape varieties and the
yeasts suitable for fermentation further evolved to a state of near
perfection. Pruning and grafting techniques were improved and
active measures were taken to protect the vineyards against pests of
every description. The
quality of pressing and winemaking has been guaranteed by the
establishment of 2,000 press houses throughout the region's vineyards.
1927, the vineyards of Champagne were legally defined, according to the
wine producing history of individual villages. In addition,
quality regulations have been enacted to limit the yields in the
vineyards and in the press houses.
Standards have been set for the pruning, the height, the spacing
and the density of the vines, to ensure harvesting by hand.
recently, measures have been taken to lengthen the minimum ageing time
to fifteen months for Non-Vintage Champagnes and to three years for
Appellation "Champagne" allows only three grape varieties in
the production of champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and pinot
Noir: A black grape variety with white juice grown mainly on
the slopes of the Mountain of Reims and Cote des Bar. It gives
champagnes their aromas of red fruits, as well as their strength and
Meuneir: Another black grape variety with white juice.
It is grown mainly in the Valley of Marne and is characterized by its
suppleness and spiciness. It gives champagnes their roundness and
A white grape variety mostly planted in the Cote des Blancs. it
provides the wines with their finesse as well as their floral and
sometimes, mineral overtones.
pressing the grapes, they are stored en masse, frequently in stainless
steel vats, but occasionally in oak barrels to undergo the first
fermentation. This process yields what is called a
"still". The methode champenoise and the art of blending
will transform the still into what is uniquely
After the first fermentation is complete, the resulting still wine is blended
by the “chef de caves” or cellar master with various other base
wines. The art of blending the grapes, and then wines, from
different villages within Champagne, was first discovered by monks
and was a well established practice by the end of the 17th
calls on experience and memory and the cellar masters' taste buds.
Each cellar master creates a unique blend, or cuvee from as many as 70
different base wines - the specific style of each producer.
For this reason, every champagne is a unique creation, which
explains the almost universal use of a House name on the label,
declaring their style.
the blend is complete, it is placed in the thick glass champagne bottle
it will eventually be sold in and a mixture of sugar, yeast, and old
wine, known as the “liqueur de triage”, is added to induce
the “mousse” or bubbles. The bottle is closed with a crown cap
and placed horizontally, in a cool, dark cellar.
second fermentation takes place over the course of at least three months
in the champagne bottle and is often referred to as the “prise de
mousse”, or "capturing the sparkle". Carbon
dioxide, as well as fermentation lees (yeast cells), form within the
bottle. The long, slow second fermentation is responsible for the
formation of the tiny bubbles so characteristic of champagne.
in the Caves
the second fermentation is complete, champagne continues to age in the
bottle for an average of 2 1/2 to 3 years. Finer champagnes may
age in the bottle for more than 6 years. As the months, and in
some cases, years go by, the sparkling wines is changed through the
interaction of the lees with the wine. This leads to a unique
character - attractive aromas and flavors of nuttiness, toastiness, or
that of freshly baked bread. For the connoisseur of champagne,
this means that the wine has already been aged when it arrives and is
ideally suited for consumption.
is only in the methode champenoise that the yeast deposit remaining from
the final fermentation is encouraged down the neck of the inverted
bottle. This process, called “remuage”, or riddling,
begins after the aging period is complete and takes an average of eight
weeks by hand, or eight days by machine.
goal of remuage is to intermittently turn, slightly shake, and slightly
increase the angle of a bottle of champagne over a period of time until
all the sediment is in the neck of the bottle. The entire
procedure is repeated every second or third day and can take between two
and three months to complete by hand. While some of the more
traditional champagne houses maintain the tradition of hand riddling, a
device designed for this purpose can fulfill the same task inside of one
settled, the sediment is removed by immersing the champagne bottleneck
in an ice cold brine that freezes the residue into a small ice block.
It is then removed from the bottle, either by hand or automatically (degorgement).
The frozen ice plug is propelled out of the bottle by the pressure of
the carbon dioxide gas. What little champagne is lost in this
process is replaced in the final step of the methode champenoise, the
champagne is extremely dry at this stage due to its high acidity and
effervescence, the taste is too harsh for most people. To counter
this dryness, champagne producers add a small amount of sugar, dissolved
in wine, before the final cork is inserted in the bottle.
This solution, known as the “liqueur d'expedition” contains a specific measure of sugar that will define the sweetness of the "dosage". This is the final step in defining the style, i.e. brut vs. demi-sec, of the champagne.
of the beauties of champagne is the remarkable diversity of styles that
come from such a small corner of the world. Each style and type of
champagne is designed to please an individual preferences in taste. The primary types of champagne
include Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, and Rose.
de blanc - means white from white - or white champagne from a white
grape. By law, blanc de blancs can only be made from a single
grape variety, Chardonnay. While it is somewhat counterintuitive
to make champagne from a single kind of grape, blanc de blancs have
become very popular as an aperitif due to their light, dry taste.
They are also ideal for light first courses including seafood and soups.
de noirs - are white champagnes made only from the black grape varieties
of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Typically, these sparkling wines
are full bodied and deeper yellow gold in color. They are ideal
for full flavored foods, including meats and cheeses.
or rose champagnes - are produced by one of two methods. The
traditional method involves the addition of a small amount of Pinot Noir
still wine to the base wine or cuvee prior to the second fermentation.
The maceration method or skin contact method involves the pressing of
the grape skins, allowing them to soak with the juice of the grapes
prior to fermentation. While the popularity of rose champagnes
comes and goes, rose undoubtedly brings a special element of romance
because of its romantic hue.
vs. non-Vintage Champagne
or sans Annee champagne accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all champagne
produced and it is less expensive than those produced in a vintage year.
It is designated as non-vintage because it is composed of several
different vintages, rather than from a single harvest. Each year,
all champagne producers set
aside at least 20 percent of their wine for use in future non-vintage
this was the only type of champagne sold for the first 150 years of
champagne production, it is typically referred to as "Classic
Champagne - is one in which all grapes used have been harvested from a
single year. There is no law governing when a year is vintage.
Instead, each House decides for itself whether it will produce a vintage
champagne in any given year. In a good year, no more than 10 to
15 percent of the total champagne made is vintage champagne.
Finally, according to regulations, vintage champagne must be aged for at
least 3 years.
bottle of champagne has to carry an indication of the status of the
producer and the brand owner. The various types are as follows:
Negociant Manipulant. A firm or person which buys grapes, juice or
wine and completes its production on the premises.
Recoltant Manipulant. A firm or person which produces wine on its
own premises exclusively from grapes it has grown.
Recoltant Cooperateur. A grower who gives his grapes to a
co-operative and takes back the wine at any stage of the production and
Cooperative de Manipulation. A co-operative which vinifies and
sells wine from grapes supplied by its members.
Societe de Recoltants. A family business which produces wines from
grapes harvested exclusively by members of the family.
Negociant Distributeur. A merchant who buys finished wines and
labels them in its own premises.
MA - Marque d'Acheteur - Buyer's Own Brand (BOB). The wine is made and labeled in Champagne, the name of the producer appears on the bottle but the Brand name belongs to a client (wholesale buyer, supermarket, restaurant, etc.
the 19th century, champagne began to be enjoyed at the start of dinner.
This led to the creation of Brut Champagnes which were less sweet and
could be sipped throughout the fashionable suppers of the time.
The wines then found their place in the world of gastronomy and in
champagne wines are consumed as an aperitif, during the course of the
meal, or indeed at any moment of the day or night.
wines should be enjoyed chilled, but not too cold. A champagne
bottle usually reaches its ideal temperature of 45-50 F (7-10 C) after
twenty minutes in a bucket filled with ice and water or after three
house in the refrigerator. Do not chill champagne in the freezer.
the foil and undo the wire cage known as the "muselet".
Grasp the cork in one hand and turn the bottle with the other, holding
it at the bottom. The cork will then easily come off by itself.
served chilled, champagne was first enjoyed from stemmed, cone shaped
glasses. During the 19th
century, the shallow coup became fashionable, but true wine lovers still
preferred the "flute". Today the favorite glass from
which to sip champagne is tulip shaped. The bubbles may dance
around freely and there is enough room for the aromas to express
is best for the champagne if the glasses used are simply rinsed (without
using soap) in warm water and left upside down to dry.
with food - Champagne's four families
with Body, with their powerful character, provide an excellent match
for foie gras, Parma ham, stews, ossobuco or poultry.
Champagnes with body are sensual, powerful, structured and intense with
woody, spicy and red fruit overtones.
with Spirit - are perfect aperitif. They also have a special
affinity with fish and shellfish and excel with sorbets or frozen
desserts. Champagnes with spirit are vivacious, light and delicate
with grassy and citrussy aromas.
- are a perfect accompaniment to lamb, sweet and sour
dishes, gratins, warm desserts and red fruits ... or try them at tea
time. Champagnes with heart are generous, heart warming and smooth,
offering aromas of brioche, cinnamon and honey. They can include
Rose and Demi-Sec Champagnes.
- are so exceptional that they deserve to be savored by
themselves. Champagnes with soul are mature, complex and rich with
hints of rare and subtle spices. Among these wines are Special
Cuvees and cherished Vintage Champagnes.
Exploring the Champagne Region
three main elements - climate, soil and sub soil, vary within the
appellation Champagne. However four main regions can be
Mountain of Reims where the vineyards snake along the slopes between the
plateau and the valleys of the Ardre and the Vesle throughout a National
Valley of the Marne where the slopes flank the river on both sides,
following its curves as it meanders from Ay to beyond Chateau Thierry.
Cote des Blancs where the vineyards follow the slopes that run from
Epernay in the north down to the slopes around the town of Sezanne.
The Cote des Bar and Montgueux as the southern tip of the region. There, the vineyards run up the gentle slopes of rounded hills between the rivers Seine and Aube. The countryside is lovely and peaceful.