Arguably the most famous wine region of the world, Champagne is located in Northern France only about a 1-2 hour drive from Paris. For over a century the wines from this region have been marketed as luxurious--with endorsements from royalty, politicians, suave fictitious spies, and rappers. But Champagne’s reputation for prestige hasn’t just come from having a savvy PR team. Given the ideal climate and terroir as well as the strict regulations placed on winemakers, Champagne has all the tools it needs to make quite arguably the world’s best sparkling wines each year.
Climate/Terroir: Champagne, France is among the most northern wine regions of the world. The temperature tends to be cool (50 °F on average) yet very stable. This makes it ideal for growing grapes that yield highly acidic wines perfect for making into sparkling wine. The soil varies in places, but the dominant characteristic of the region is a subsoil of chalk containing marine fossils. This soil allows the land to absorb and gradually release heat as well as providing drainage.
Grapes: By law, wines from Champagne must be predominantly made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Other varieties are allowed in small amounts but are rarely ever used. Wines labeled Blanc de Blancs are 100% Chardonnay. Wines labeled Blanc de Noirs are made from 100% red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).
Method of Production:
Champagne sparkling wines are made with the Traditional process (methode Champenoise). Winemakers begin first by picking their grapes before they’ve fully ripened and making a still wine from them. Because the grapes are picked early, this initial wine is extremely acidic and isn’t suitable for consumption. The winery then places the initial wine in bottles, adds a mixture of yeast and sugar (called liqueur de tirage), and waits for the wine to re-ferment and develop. As the wine undergoes fermentation again, carbon dioxide, which is a normal by-product of fermentation is trapped in the bottle, resulting in adding fizziness to the wine.
How Does it Taste?:
Wines from Champagne vary in taste perhaps more than any other sparkling wine appellation. Some are styled to be light and apple-y others are heavy and full with a bouquet of toast. Some are austere and bone-dry while others are slightly fruity and contain a little residual sugar. While you can’t always guess what a Champagne will taste like if you’ve never had it before, the label will often give you an indicator of the sweetness at least. Below is a list of terms you’ll likely see on the label that indicate the amount of residual sugar in the bottle (driest to sweetest):
- Brut Natural/Brut Zero (zero sugar)
- Extra Brut
- Extra Dry
Champagne can typically age for at least a few years and some can age for decades. Vintage-specific Champagne generally ages longer than non-vintage Champagne.
Blanc de Blancs -- 100% Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs -- 100% red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier)
Rose -- Like Rose still wine. Grape skins are allowed to macerate on pressed juice giving it more color, body and tannin.
Champagne and most sparkling wine is pretty food-friendly. Excellent with seafood (especially shellfish), chicken, Thai Food, and fruit desserts.