Champagne is one of the finest and most expensive beverages in the world.
Named after the region where it is grown and made, European Law dictates that champagne can only be called as such if made within a 100 mile radius of the region which already creates an exclusivity and desirability that helps to drive up the price.
French sparkling wine made outside of the region is known as Crémant.
Champagne’s sparkling wine making history dates all the way back to the 1700s and has now come to define the region with over 84,000 acres of vineyards dotted throughout the five major areas: The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne.
Grapes obviously play a hugely important role in all wine making but when it comes to making champagne, there are only certain grapes allowed to make it.
The grapes grown in the Champagne region are renowned for their distinct flavors which are defined by the cooler climates and soils that are rich in minerals.
The grape selection process is crucial in creating that base flavor which is when the most concentrated juice is extracted.
The grapes that are acceptable to use to make champagne are: Arbane, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.
The majority of champagnes are made using around ⅔ red and ⅓ Chardonnay mixes which in term determines the flavor, body and aroma of the overall result. The structure of the grapes used and how much is used will determine the quality of the champagne.
The most traditional practice used to make Champagne is known as Méthode Traditionnelle which translates to The Classic Method.
This is when champagne goes through a second fermentation which helps to develop the signature sparkly. This takes place in the bottle but requires a lot of attention and technical detail to get right.
The grapes are picked and then fermented into a still wine like with other wines but then additional yeast and sugars are added which is then bottled to begin a second fermentation process.
The CO2 gas in the liquid forms the bubbles as the yeast cells die and the wine is then aged for 15 months or more to enhance the texture and flavor.
The clarification process takes place during this time and is known as riddling which is when the bottle is rotated slowly to capture any dead yeast cells at the bottle of the neck.
This is then removed through the disgorgement process which is then topped up with additional sugar and more wine before being sealed.
The Appellation d’Origine Controlée is a French certification that closely monitors the making process of Champagne.
They lay out the rules and standards required to make official champagne by stating how the grapes can be grown and selected all the way through to the fermentation processes.
An example of their rules is that the grapes must be hand selected and pressed within a covered environment and can only be pressed twice.
Whether the champagne is classed as vintage or not is dependent on the age of the grapes that have been used in the mix to make it.
Whether the wine is Champagne or sparkling wine is dependent on the region where it was made. Authentic champagne is made in the Champagne region using a mix from seven distinct grapes and going through the Méthode Traditionnelle.
However, sparkling wine making processes do not have to follow these rules. Sparkling wine tends to be made from the same grapes as Champagne and depending on the company, can be made using the Classic Method, however, it technically can never be authorised or classed as champagne unless it is made in the region.
Champagnes are usually Brut meaning that they are dry whereas there are a lot of different styles that they can have with Brut Zero being the driest type with no dosage added and Doux being the sweetest tasting kind.
Sparkling wine variations
With many countries aiming to make their own variation of sparkling wine, there are a wide range of different kinds that have become popular in their own right while using the methods used to make champagne.
These include Prosecco (Italy), Sekt (Germany) and Cava (Spain) among many more. If you are new to the world of sparkling wine and the price of champagne is out of your budget then trying one of these kinds will give you an idea as to the taste and experience making it an ideal starting point.
Champagne can cost thousands due to the labor intensive methods that go into each step of the making process. It’s important to consider that there is as little machinery intervening as possible from the selecting process to the fermentation.
As the staff have to be specially trained for the job, it is a costly process and also limits the amount of bottles available hence why champagne is usually sold in limited batches at a time.
As this isn’t compulsory when making sparkling wine, you’ll find that sparkling wines are more readily available and priced more affordable than champagnes.