Champagne is the name of the world’s most famous sparkling wine, but it is also the name of the French wine region where it comes from.
The World’s Most Famous Sparkling Wine
While it has been used to refer to sparkling wines from all over the world, Champagne is a legally controlled and restricted name.
Also Read: Discover the Wines of Bordeaux Region
Champagne region lies at the northern edge of the world’s vineyard-growing areas, with lower average temperatures than any other French wine region. In this cool climate, the growing season is rarely warm enough to ripen grapes to the levels required for standard winemaking.
VIDEO: The Wines of Champagne
Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the primary grape varieties used to make Champagne. Four other varieties are also permitted for use in Champagne: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane. Each Champagne variety has its own particular qualities and benefits.
Pinot Noir contributes good palate weight and darker, meaty aromas. Pinot Meunier gives good acidity and a certain fruitiness which shows most obviously in younger wines. Chardonnay is said to bring elegance and finesse to Champagnes, along with a certain creamy roundness and lifted stone-fruit aromas.
How Many Kinds of Champagne Are There?
Depending on exactly how a Champagne is made, it can have different forms. Champagne styles vary in their color, sweetness, base grape varieties, and whether they are the product of a single vintage or Non-Vintage.
The whites may be either Blanc de Noirs (made from black-skinned grapes), Blanc de Blancs (made from green-skinned grapes) or just plain Blanc (made from any combination of the permitted varieties). Pink Champagne Rosé is made either by adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins. Grand Cru Champagnes and Premier Cru Champagnes are those made from the region’s very finest and highest-rated vineyards.
Vintage wines must spend 36 months in bottle before being sent to market, though most are released after 4 to 10 years.
The production process for Champagne is similar to the one used for other wines, but includes an additional stage. This stage consists in a second fermentation in the bottle by the addition of yeast and sugars. This generates the carbon dioxide bubbles responsible for the pop and sparkle that are the characteristics of Champagne.
Bottled and Aged to Perfection
All Champagne must spend at least 12 months aging. Non-vintage Champagnes must mature in bottle for a minimum of 15 months in total before release though in practice they mature 2 to 3 years. Vintage wines must spend 36 months in bottle before being sent to market, though most are released after 4 to 10 years.
Aside from the climatic conditions of the particular vintage and the characteristics of the grape varieties, there is a third component in the distinctiveness of Champagne region. It is its landscape that undulates very gently over the white, calcareous soils of the Paris Basin. This chalk is very fine-grained and porous allowing the minerals to be easily absorbed by the vine roots. Another benefit is that the permeability ensures access to the water resources far below, and a continuous water supply.
The Best Champagnes
Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne, France – Chardonnay
Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Brut, Champagne, France – Pinot Noir
Krug Collection Brut, Champagne, France – Champagne Blend
Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France – Chardonnay
Dom Perignon Oenotheque Brut Millesime, Champagne, France – Champagne Blend
Jacquesson Ay Grand Cru Vauzelle Terme Extra Brut, Champagne, France – Pinot Noir
Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France – Pinot Noir
Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut, Champagne, France – Chardonnay – Pinot Noir
Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut, Champagne, France – Champagne Blend
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Cave Privee Collection Brut Rose, Champagne, France – Champagne Blend