Champagne is one of the best known and most popular wines on earth. People can argue about the best reds, whites, or dessert wines, but everyone agrees that Champagne is the best of the sparkling ones. But why exactly is that? And what makes Champagne better than all the other sparkling wines? The following will explain just that.
1What Is Champagne?
Champagne, like other wines, comes from red or white grapes which are fermented. What separates Champagne from other wines is an additional processing step. Champagne is fermented twice, and the wine is bottled with yeast and a wine mixture. During this second fermentation process, the closed bottle retains the carbon dioxide released during fermentation, a process which produces the tiny champagne bubbles.
While any producer can ferment their wine twice, to be true Champagne, the process must occur in France. To be called "Champagne," the grapes must be grown in this single area of France. Any other sparkling wine is not truly Champagne, even if the label suggests otherwise.
2Where Champagne Grapes Come From
The farm area known as Champagne is about ninety miles or 1 1/2 hours from Paris, going northeast via car or train. You'll see wheat fields, but you'll also see that the primary crop is grapes. The soil is weak and can't support anything besides grapes or hardy grains. This area takes up around 80,000 plus acres and is not densely populated. There are 321 villages in this area that give us Champagne grapes.
3Not All Sparkling Wine Is Champagne
True Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France; it will have "Product of France" or "France" on the label. In the European Union, sparkling wines made in other places are not legally allowed to call themselves Champagne. However, other countries are not bound by those rules, and winemakers profit from the popularity of true Champagne. A good rule of thumb is any true Champagne will be priced at over $25.
4Other Kinds Of Sparkling Wine
You can certainly get sparkling wines in other areas of France, and Cremant is what is often used for these, like Cremant d'Alsace. It first was applied to the champagne type with less carbonation, but then the authorities in France said that only the Champagne area could be said to produce the real deal, so Cremant is a compromise appellation.
The Champagne way of fermenting a second time in the bottle is always used for Cremant wines. This process is now known as the classic or traditional method. Such sparkling wines are found in places like Alsace, the Loire Valley, and Languedoc-Roussillon.
5What Makes Champagne Special
The Champagne region is marginally located for successful grape production. The region is at the uppermost latitudinal limit for cultivating grapes in the Northern Hemisphere. Except for the three other areas — two in Germany, one in Southern England — it is the world's furthest northern wine region.
The champagne temperature averages 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Such temperature is unusual because grapes require a slightly cooler annual temperature. It makes the grapes extra acidic, which would be an issue for still (nonsparkling) wine, but is perfect for the sparkling version of the drink, as it lends to their lively, palate-cleansing quality.
6Weather In The Champagne Region
There's a lot of rain, even in the summer months, in Champagne, but there can be sufficient sunlight for the ripening of the grapes. The biggest problem is the frost that can occur in late spring, wiping out a lot of the crops. The soil is chalky and makes growing conditions unique.
It harkens back to 65 million years ago when this area was under water, leaving big mounds of seashells when it receded. This type of soil isn't suitable for growing a lot of things except wine grapes. The combination of cold climate and limestone soil in the Champagne area means that tiny grapes grow there with many concentrated nutrients, excellent for sparkling wines.
7Champagne Grape Varieties
Three kinds of grapes go into Champagne: red Pinot Noir, another red Pinot Meunier, and white Chardonnay. That's because each of these types has something to add to the final blend. The Pinot Noir lends its aroma and body, for instance. These grapes appreciate a cold climate with chalky limestone soil, both commonly found in the region.
Chardonnay is the main wine of the Champagne region and offers a light, polished, and fresh taste. This freshness makes Blanc de Blancs Champagne, the French word for Chardonnay, a popular choice for growers and wine lovers. Another famous wine of this region is the Pinot Meunier, which offers a sweet taste with a deep aroma which can be produced quickly from grape to glass.
8How The Grapes Are Mixed
About 85 to 90 percent of Champagnes are composed mainly of red grapes (two-thirds) while the rest (one-third) is made up of Chardonnay. Less than five percent of Champagnes, called Blanc de Blancs, is pure Chardonnay. An even smaller amount of Champagnes are made of purely red grapes which are called blanc de noirs. Sometimes, Rosé Champagnes are made from a mixture of white and red grapes, and they make up only a small category of Champagnes.
Champagne is the world's favorite sparkling wine, native to only the Champagne region of France. However, Champagne isn't just about location; its process is what makes it such a complex blend. Different grape varieties are combined for the best results. Champagne may even be a combination of wines from a range of vineyards. Overall, Champagne isn't easy to make, but it is easy to enjoy.