25 Things You need to know about Champagne & its history

Champagne has been a symbol of celebration, good news and good times for – amazingly – over 300 years. And if you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know I was really lucky to visit the Champagne region this year, on my trip to Reims and the Marne Valley.

But what is so special about champagne? And what makes it unique toi prosecco, cava and other sparkling wines? After my travels through Champagne, I thought I’d share everything you need to know about this special sparkling drink. Here goes.

Everything you need to know about Champagne

Champagne

1. Le Champagne refers to the wine, La Champagne refers to the destination

Don’t get it wrong!

2. We’ve got the monks to thank for the world’s most famous bubbly

After years spent trying the remove the bubbles from fermented grapes, it was Dom Pérignon (along with a few other folk) who mastered the ability to produce effervescent wine with long-lasting fizz, in the late 1600s. The higher echelons of society began drinking it and it became a highly prestigious drink.

3. Champagne joined the wine trade in the 1800s

Once they’d mastered how to bottle it and secure it with cork stoppers they bought from the British, the French began shipping champagne overseas. Their location on the River Marne was key in transporting it.

Champagne Valley

The Marne River in Chateau-Thierry

4. Champagne can only be so-called if the terroir and wine-making methods pass strict criteria

This ‘appellation’, or geographical labelling of the wine, is based on strict historical and legal criteria set by the Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne advisory board. It even goes down to the scientific molecules which can’t be found in any other sparkling wine.

5. There are lawsuits going on all the time against companies who wrongly use the champagne brand

If it’s not champagne, don’t call it that – you could get yourself in some serious trouble.

25 things to know about Champagne

6. Champagne is the northernmost wine-making region in the world

Reims is located at Latitudes 49°5 and Bar-sur-Seine is at 48°

7. The cellars of the Champagne province are truly unique

These caverns, or crayères, were excavated by the Romans who used the limestone for building. They’re what makes this sparkling drink so unique. Check out this 4 day itinerary to the Marne Valley and 9 Reasons you’ll really like Reims to find out more.

Champagne

8. Grape harvesting in Champagne generally takes place from the middle of September to early October

This is the exciting, or terrifying bit, for winegrowers, as the yield be affected each year by the smallest change in climate or rainfall.

9. There are four main growing areas in the Champagne province

You will also find sparkling wines in other regions of France such as Burgundy and the Loire Valley, but these can not be referred to as champagne.

Hautvillers, Champagne

10. The wine that is produced before the fermentation process starts is known as the ‘vin clair’

Translated as ‘clear wine’, the blend of vin clair depends on the cru or village in which it’s produced and the way it’s blended is quite an art.

Itinerary through the Marne Valley

11. Each champagne house has their own personal cuvée

Cuvée generally refers to the wine you get from the first press of the grapes. But it also refers to the unique blend of grapes that is specific to a champagne house.

Champagne

12. Champagne must remain in the cellar for a minimum of 15 months before it is opened

This is one of the criteria that makes the drink so special. Many are left for longer and vintage bottles are left for a minimum of three years. 

Champagne

13. There are three key grape varietals cultivated in the Champagne region

This comprises Chardonnay (white grape), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both black skin grapes with colourless flesh).

14. Blanc de Blanc is made from 100% white grapes

15. Blanc de Noirs (you guessed it) are made from 100% dark grapes 

Champagne

16. When wines are blended, they include champagne from the current year’s harvest as well as previous years

This is where oenologists (winemakers) step in and work their magic, creating their unique blend.

17. Vintage champagnes are those which have been blended purely from grapes harvested during a single season

18. Every single bottle of champagne must be rotated every day

This process of riddling, (or remuage) is so the sediment from the second fermentation moves towards the cork. With up to 40,000 bottles in some cellars, that’s a full-time job!

Champagne

19. The fermentation process known is what adds the special sparkle

Winemakers have spent years perfecting this process and it’s the ‘prise de mousse’ (sparkling stage or literally ‘foam taking’) which involves adding liquor and/or sugar, which adds the effervescent quality.

champagne

20. The sediment is frozen so it can be removed

This is the clever bit where they freeze the sediment in a freezing tank set at a temperature of -25-degrees so it can be removed – but as you lose a little bit of wine, a second blend of liquor and sugar, known as the ‘liqeuer de tirage’ is then added. The amount of sugar used depends on whether it’s a brut, sec or demi-sec.

21. Once the wine has gone through the fermentation process, they can be made to look pretty

This is the bit when the likes of Veuve Clicquot add their lovely orange branding, and the cork and wire ‘muselet’ is added, ready to be sold, and most importantly, drank.

Reims

22. Today, 312.5 million bottles of champagne are shipped out of the Champagne province

23. Stocks of champagne currently in maturation are in excess of 1 billion bottles

I know, unbelievable, right?

24. There are some really cool ways to experience the Champagne province

This includes eco-guided picnic tours in electric cars and even a champagne bus!

Champagne bus

25. Someone opens a bottle of Moët et Chandon every minute

 
Have you been to Champagne and what do you think about the whole sparkling wine debate? Do you even like it? Do you prefer cava or Prosecco? Or have you discovered a good English sparkling wine? Share your thoughts!

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Champagne

My trip to Champagne was hosted by Champagne & Ardenne Tourism and Voyages SNCF.