1. The grapes are pressed gently and quickly to keep any color out of the wine.
2. The wine undergoes a normal white wine fermentation.
3. It is then blended. It is said that the art of Champagne is the art of blending, as wines from different districts of Champagne and often different vintages (as many as 50 to 200 different commune wines are often used by major firms) are blended to form a unique cuvée.
4. It is then bottled with sugar and yeast (liqueur de triage) and tightly capped.
5. The secondary fermentation that then takes place produces the bubbles (prise de mousse means ‘capture the sparkle’).
6. The wine is aged in the bottle.
7. The rémuage, or riddling process begins. This process takes an average of eight weeks by hand, or eight days by machine. It is only in the méthode champenoise that the yeast deposit remaining from the final fermentation is encouraged down the neck of the inverted bottle.
8. The neck of the inverted bottle is then plunged into a freezing brine solution that causes an ice plug to form in the neck.
9. The cap is removed and the yeast is expelled in that frozen plug of ice during the degorgement, removing the sediment from the bottle.
10. The lost wine is replaced with the dosage (‘liqueur d’expedition’ in French), which will determine the sweetness of the finished Champagne.
11. A cork and label are added. The process is now finished.
Non Vintage – a champagne house’s standard bottling made the house style, which is maintained by blending several vintages. Must be aged for a minimum of fifteen months, twelve of which must be on the lees.
Vintage – from a single year’s harvest, produced in only the best years and must be aged on the lees in bottle for a minimum of three years
Prestige Cuvée/Tête de Cuvée/Cuvée Spéciale – the top of the line product produced by a given Champagne House, typically includes some Premier or Grand Cru fruit
Blanc de blancs – made from 100% Chardonnay.
Blanc de noirs – made from only red grapes, mainly Pinot Noir, sometime with Pinot Meunier
Rosé – pink or salmon in color, made from either red grapes entirely or a blend of red and white. Typically a separate red wine is made and blended with blanc Champagne until the desired color and flavor is achieved.
Champagne Sweetness Levels:
(from sweet to dry – note categories sometimes overlap)
Doux - More than 50 grams per liter sugar
Demi-Sec - 33-50 grams per liter sugar
Sec - 17-35 grams per liter sugar
Extra-Dry - 12-20 grams per liter sugar
Brut - 15 or less grams per liter sugar
Ultra Brut, Brut Sauvage, Brut Nature (sans dosage) - Less than 6 grams per liter sugar, less than 3 for Brut Nature.