Wine of the World

Wine Basics By Region - Champagne Print

Overview

 
A strong argument could be made that the Champagne region has done the best job of branding their wines of any major wine region in the world. Champagne on the label is as close as we get to a guarantee of at least good quality in the bottle. The unique cool climate and chalky soil are very important to the character of Champagne. The primary Champagne grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
 
All vineyards in Champagne are rated according to a system know as ‘Echelle des Crus.’
This rates the vineyard on a percentage basis between 80-100%. 90-99% inclusive are considered to be Premier Cru and those at 100% are Grand Cru. Historically, the 100% price would be set, with grapes coming from an 85% rated vineyard receiving that percentage of the amount agreed upon for the Grand Cru.
 
Champagne must come from the region of Champagne, France to be entitled to the Appellation, and the secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle, (not a vat).
Champagne is a process (methode champenoise) as well as a beverage.
 
The three major regions in France are the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne, and the Côte de Blanc. The Côte des Bar is an isolated and lesser known region 60 miles southeast of Epernay in the Aube.

Additional Information

Champagne Process
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.
 
Champagne Styles:
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.