Champagne bottles come in a dizzying array of sizes, from the tiny quart (20cl) right up to the gargantuan Melchizedek, which is a staggering 30 litres!
Why does Champagne reign supreme? First of all, Champagne means three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay is a white grape; the two Pinots are both black. Each brings something special to a blend. Chardonnay suggests flowers, vanilla, honey; Pinot Noir is earthier, rootier, more structured; Pinot Meunier adds fresh, appley notes.
Secondly, Champagne is the name of a place in northern France. It’s a range of low chalk hills which rise gently up from a dreary agricultural plain east of Paris. The hills drain the chalk and lift the vines towards the sun, allowing them to achieve the barest minimum of ripeness. Turn those grapes into wine, and their nervy, high-acid profile is perfect base material with which to make great sparkling wine. True Champagne, therefore, comes only from Champagne.
Thirdly, Champagne is made by a unique method, now imitated wherever winegrowers want to make great sparkling wine. The Champagne method begins with still wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grown within the Champagne area. That wine is then bottled with a little extra sugar and yeast, and carefully laid on its side in the cool, deep cellars which honeycomb the region.
Very slowly, the yeast ferments the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is sealed, the CO2 has nowhere to go. Bubbles form. The fermentation leaves yeasty sediment in the bottle. After at least 12 months (and usually much longer than that), the wine is upended so that the sediment settles in the bottle’s neck. It is then removed by freezing the neck, allowing the gas to expel the frozen plug of sediment, and quickly recorking the bottle, adding extra syrup at the same time to balance the naturally high-acid profile. The yeasty sediment, too, has left rich, sometimes creamy flavours in the wine.
The Champagne is now ready to be opened and enjoyed. There are a number of different Champagne styles. The most widely seen is non-vintage Brut: a blend of different years, bottled with up to 15g of residual sugar, which encapsulates each house’s style. These wines are usually given a branded name, such as Moët’s Brut Imperial, Bollinger’s Special Cuvée or Roederer’s Brut Premier.
Champagne styles differ in their sweetness levels, base grape varieties, colour and whether they are the product of a single vintage or a blend from multiple vintages.
The Champagne wine region is within the historical province of Champagne which is located in northeast France, about 100 miles east of Paris.
The term 'Champagne' is a legally controlled and resricted name - only wines produced in Champagne can be called so.
To maintain a house style, Champagnes are often the product of more than one vintage. A single vintage reflects the characteristics of a single outstanding vintage.
1 Nov 2019