Drink With Me Blog
Champagne. Is there any more luxurious word out there? To me, it conjures up visions of fireworks, popping corks and all-out celebration. It is by far my most favoured alcoholic drink (although English sparkling wine is very much giving it a run for its money) and to visit the region is #1 on my bucket list. But what is it that makes this one word evoke feelings of excitement, intense emotion and general happiness?
Quietly tucked away north-east of Paris, the Champagne region is the most northerly wine region in France. This is particularly important because of its climate which is crucial to the make-up of the wine. There are three main vineyard areas: Côte des Blancs, Vallée de la Marne and Montagne de Reims. It is a sparkling wine which means bubbles and loud popping corks, although some still Champagnes do exist out there! Champagne is only made from 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, all in differing ratios according to what the Champagne house wants to make. The wine is so popular with consumers that almost every other region in the world that produced sparkling wine used the term Champagne on its labels and Champagne had it legally bound that only sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France can actually use the name Champagne, thus making it properly protected.
Why is Champagne so expensive? Simple: the way it is made! Making Champagne is laborious and time consuming, which means costs to the winery which are of course passed onto the consumer. That and marketing each brand so people feel one is more special than another. Making Champagne ain’t easy, but nothing worth it is, right? Champagne is made by a process called Méthode Traditionnelle or Méthode Champenoise, the Classic Method. It starts off as any other still wine would, but with Champagne yeast and sugars are added to the wine in the bottle to start a second fermentation inside the glass! The wine reacts with the yeasts and sugars to produce carbon dioxide which is the trademark bubbles we all love. Then this wine has to legally be aged for at least 15 months on its ‘lees’ (dead yeast cells) to create extra maturity. During this time the bottles are turned very slowly – a process called riddling – which in the not so distant past used to be done by a person but now by machines. This gets the yeast to the top of the bottle which is then expelled in a process called disgorgement. The wine is then topped with sugar and a wine known as dosage – essentially a top up wine – and then bottled! It then needs the heavier duty cork and cage to protect the pressure from exploding the bottle but which will give it that ‘POP’ when you open it!
You can also have different Champagnes; the blanc de blancs (white from whites) means a Champagne made only from Chardonnay grapes; blanc de noirs is a white wine made from the red grapes of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Champagne isn’t loved by everyone and it is definitely an acquired taste. Some people prefer the taste profile of the more fruity Prosecco and Champagne is, for the most part, certainly drier than other sparkling wines. But each Champagne house certainly has its own distinct flavour profiles. Some flavours are biscuit (think Bollinger), lemons, brioche and vanilla (Veuve Cliquot) and citrus and nut notes (think Moet & Chandon). There are differing flavour profiles for Champagne, ranging from very dry (Brut Nature), little sweeter ( Extra Brut), the most popular type of Champagne, Brut, and then the sweeter and less common Champagnes, Dry, Sec, Seco, Demi-Sec, Doux, Dulce, the two latter types being the sweetest. The ones you’ll have in your fridge are probably the Brut ones – now you know what you’re looking for on the label!