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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!