Behind the Bubbles: Champagne 101

We may be well into the new year, there are still plenty of reasons to drink Champagne! Despite having the prestigious title of being the premiere sparkling wine, few people know what truly makes Champagne such a unique, delectable bubbly drink, and more importantly, so expensive. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you 3 ways to identify the real deal from other styles of sparkling wine as well as additional reasons (besides the bubbles) to why you should appreciate Champagne.

Location, Location, Location

Champagne is often mistakenly defined as any wine with bubbles from any country or region. However, Champagne ONLY comes from a single region in France called…Champagne. About 90 miles northeast of Paris, Champagne is the most northerly wine region in France, with challenging climate conditions thus making the harvest quite difficult and some years yields low. This region consists of 5 major sub-regions: Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne De Reims and Vallée De La Marn. If it’s not from here, then it’s simply NOT Champagne!

It’s all about the grapes

Besides location, the type of grapes used will also indicate if what you’re drinking is Champagne or not. There are restrictions on the principal grapes that can be used to make champagne. It can only be made from any or all of these three of the following: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They are also hand harvested to ensure the quality of selection of the grapes.

The process

Lastly, the winemaking process differentiates Champagne from other styles of sparkling wine or even non-sparkling wine. All Champagnes go through a technical process known as the ‘Traditional Method’ (or in French Méthode Traditionnelle, Classique or Champenoise as you’ll often see on the bottles) where the wine is twice fermented, unlike like Prosecco for example.

The first fermentation is done for the making of the cuvée or base wine (meaning wine without bubbles) and then blending of wines from different vintages to improve the complexity and add various components to the wine, in order to enhance the wine character. Unlike bottles labelled with a specific vintage. Vintage Champagnes are produced from grapes harvested for the same year. A non-vintage (noted on the bottle as N.V) Champagne is produced from the best grapes grown and harvested over the course of several years, to build quality due to various yields from unstable weather conditions.

The second fermentation happens after the blending in the final bottle, with the addition of clarifying agents, sugar, yeast and wine this step is known as liqueur de triage. This raises the alcohol, and the CO2 is generated by the yeast then dissolves into the wine creating those magical bubbles. But, the party does not stop there! The wine still needs to go through yeast autolysis, riddling, disgorgement and finally corking for bottle ageing to complete this very expensive and labouring process.

To sum it up, Champagne’s luxurious qualities are generally due to the exclusive region with unpredictable yields, careful selection of particular grapes, and finally its labour extensive and lengthy winemaking process. There should be no more doubting, why Champagne is simply the perfect choice when celebrating life!

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