The most fiercely protected wine name of all, Champagne can be made only from vines grown on the chalky hillsides around Reims and Epernay in north-eastern France. The Montagne de Reims and the Vallée de la Marne are ideal for cultivating the two red grapes used, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, whilst the Côtes de Blancs is perfect for the production of the white variety employed, Chardonnay. View our range.
The Champagne Region
The region is now divided into five regions: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, Vallée de la Marne, and recently Côte des Bar, and Côte de Sézanne were added. These regions are further divided into 320 villages, each being classified under Grand Cru (17), Premier Cru (42), or Cru.
Montagne de Reims – with nine Grands Crus villages it has chalk-based soils mixed with marl and is particularly well-suited to Pinot Noir.
Côte des Blancs – Eastern facing on chalky soil the area is perfect for growing Chardonnay. Six Grands Crus are foubd here.
Vallée de la Marne – located on the riverbanks of the Marne, the soils are more variable than in the other areas and the climate is a bit more humid and well-suited to Pinot Meunier. It only has two Grand Crus.
The Traditional Method
Following completion of the first fermentation, which takes place in the vat, the still wine is bottled and a second fermentation is induced; the wine is allowed to stay on the lees (sediment) for a minimum of 15 months (or more, the longer the better) after which it is skilfully removed without allowing any of the sparkle, which has been absorbed into the wine, to evaporate. The steps to create Champagne are explained below.
Base Wine or “Cuvée”: grapes are picked (usually just a tinsy bit younger to preserve acidity) and fermented into a dry wine. The winemaker then takes the various base wines and blends them together into what the French call a “cuvée”, which is the final sparkling wine blend.
Tirage: Yeast and sugars are added to the cuvée to start the second fermentation and wines are bottled (and topped with crown caps).
2nd Fermentation: (inside the bottle) The second fermentation adds about 1.3% more alcohol and the process creates CO2 which is trapped inside the bottle thus carbonating the wine. The yeast dies in a process called autolysis and remain in the bottle.
Aging: Wines are aged on their lees (the autolytic yeast particles) for a period of time to develop texture in the wine. Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months of aging (36 mos for vintage Champage). Cava requires a minimum of 9 months of aging but requires up to 30 months for Gran Reserva Cava. Most believe the longer the wine ages on its lees, the better.
Riddling: Clarification occurs by settling the bottle upside down and the dead yeast cells collect in the neck of the bottle.
Disgorging: Removing sediment from bottle. The bottles are placed upside down into freezing liquid which causes the yeast bits to freeze in the neck of the bottle. The crown cap is then popped off momentarily which allows the frozen chunk of lees to shoot out of the pressurized bottle.
Dosage: A mixture of wine and sugar (called Exposition liqueur) is added to fill bottles and then bottles are corked, wired and labeled.
Different Styles Of Champagne
Non Vintage Champagne is a blend of several years, whilst Vintage Champagne (which must rest on the lees for at least three years) is the product of one year only. Blanc de Blancs are made of chardonnay only while Blanc de Noirs are made from dark skin grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Although some growers make and market their own wine, most is handled by the Champagne Houses large and small, many of whom have built up of international brands famous throughout the world. The famous names includes Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Pol Roger, Gosset, Krug and Laurent Perrier.
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