There is something alluring about a glass full of bubbles.... especially champagne! Since Ancient times the wines of Champagne have been associated with royalty, celebration, privilege, wealth, power and position. Champagne has made a brand for itself today and have worked extremely hard for centuries to do so. A bottle of bubbles comes at a cost though, with good reason. Severval more steps are needed in the production process than your regular still wine or other sparklings. Click the links above or scroll down to discover more, the more you learn the most you will appreciate the bubbles in your glass.
1-4th century 1st vineyards appeared in Champagne. The Romans ruled champagne at this time by treaty, territory was too far from Rome to exert overt control although they did offer protection to the people of champagne so they abided by the laws.
200's Roman Empire went into decline. Champagne lay open for attack and was overrun by the Vandals, The Teutons, The Franks and The Huns.
5th century The Franks were a German tribe. The Franks Invaded France which impacted Champagne and all of The country. During this period France was known as Gaul. King of the Francs, Clovis United all of the Gaulish tribes under his rule during this century.
City of Riems an extraordinarily Important city politically, located in Champagne. For 600 years 27 kings from Louis VII to Charles X were crowned here.
9th century The First Bottling's At the very beginning the wines of Champagne were all still and mostly red. 2 established names for the wine: Vins de la Montagne (mountain wines) Vins de la Rivière (river wines)
Middle Ages Champagne became a crossroad for merchants of Europe. Large fairs were held in Champagne, whilst the buyers and sellers were conducting business they would consume the local wine.
Battles & War
Riems became the political and social Hub of France! during any war it attracted all the conflict.
War - Frankish Kingdoms and Germanic kingdoms
100 year war, England were trying to take over the French throne
Napoleons Battle against Austria, Prussia and Russia
WW1 & WW2 heavy fighting in the area
Mastering the method
End of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century Champagne was working very hard towards he development of the sparkling wine process.
Solutions to their problems included, reliable glass and cork.
1728 The transport and trade of selling Champagne by the bottle began
First Champagne houses
In the 17th century the city of Riems was famous for its textiles. Textile barons gifted their customers cases of sparkling wine and noticed their customers returning with more interest in the wine.
Few of the textile barons established Champagne houses, first to open was Ruinart in 1729
Chanoine Freres 1730
Moët & Chandon 1743
Henri Abele 1757
Besserat de Bellefon 1760
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 1772
Louis Roederer 1776
Heidsiek & co Monopole 1785
Jacquesson & Fils 1798
1887 Champagne began to fight for ownership of the word
1890 Phylloxera Champagne was one of the last regions to be attacked by the vineyard pest Phylloxera. Prior to the infestation the region was covered in vines, 150,000 acres today there is only 30,000 acres of vineyards in the region.
1908 The Champagne region was delineated, signifcant unrest followed by the action.
Aube Region - South of the city Troyes was not offically included.
When the goverment included the Aube region the growers from the
Marne region rioted!
1911 Echelle des Crus - Classification system, the ranking of the villages and the vineyards that surrond them
1920 Champage entered its Golden years
1927 The dispute between the 2 regions Aube and the Marne was settled and the Aube became an offical Champagne region
Champagne continues to fight for ownership of the word "Champagne"
Sparkling wines made outside of Champagne in France are labelled "Cremant", "Moussex" and "Petillant"
Champagne also claim ownership of the terms "Champagne Method and "Methode Traditionelle"
LOCATION & Climate
Most Northern wine region of all France
Champagne lies in the 49-49.5 parrallel North
Champagne is located North of Burgundy
Climate is Continental with Maritime influences
Continental, effects Winter temperatures most significantly
Maritime, Sprint and Autumn come with frost a hazard for the vine
Rainfall all year round
Climate is both cold and harsh
Barley recieves any sunshie, 1650 hours
Through the seasons
SPRING frosts are common and severe they reduce yeilds by killing fruit bearing buds.
To fight against frost, smudge pots, sprinkler systems ar used during danger periods. The sprinkler creates and maintains an ice capsule around the bud and protects the plant by maintaing a 0c temperature.
SUMMER continental influence can have a warming effect, maritime influences can bring in abundant cloud cover
AUTUMN often bring ealry frost
WINTER brutal freezes, not uncommon for the temperature to dip below -10degrees for 2-4 days a year
9-16th century the two grapes planted throughout Champagne were
Gouais a green skinned grape used to make Vins de la Montagne
Fromenteau a grey, pink grape used to make Vins de la Rivière
16-20th century up until the 20 century a common practise in Champagne was to plant a mix of grape varieties
As time passed Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunièr dominated, the other grapes are still authorised but very uncommon
3 Grapes of Chamapagne
Is the most widely planted grape, covering 38% of vineyard space
Grape contributes, cherry, strawberry, fruit, structure, richness and alcohol to the Champagne blend.
Pinot noir is an aromatic grape variety with good acidity, low to moderate tannins and in light red in colour.
Is the second most planted grape variety in Champagne covering 34% of vineyard land.
The grape contributes acid, red fruit, depth and earthiness to the blend.
Has the viticultural benefit of being frost and freeze resistant
'Pinot meunièr' translates into 'Millers Pinot' because the underside of the leaf looks as if it was dusted with flour, the grape is a genetic mutation of Pinot noir and is indigenous to France
Is the least grapes variety covering 28% of vineyard land. It is the only white grape out of the three. Chardonnay are be produced in 2 different styles,
Floral notes, hints of citrus, apple, light and elegance in cool years
Ripen to high sugar and extract levels in hot vintages yielding wines that are both fruity and fat. Chardonnay is indigenous to France
Champagne can be a blend of grapes,
when blended what does each grape offer ?
Pinot noir - least acid, moderate alcohol
Pinot meunièr - moderate acid, least alcohol
Chardonnay - most acid and alcohol
These soils are found in Montagne de Riems, Cotes des Blancs, Vitry-le-Francois
these sub regions are located in north west Marne region. These 3 sub-regions are also known as 'dry Champagne' this is because the porous limestone sub soil stores water and drains the top soil of moisture like a sponge.
Most regions in Champagne are planted on top of 2 primary types of chalk
Belemnite and Micraster.
Belemnite - fossilised ancient relatives of today's squid, upper to mid slope and is the preferred place to plant your vines, because the soil is located on the slope.
Micraster - fossilised sea urchins and located at the bottom of the slope.
Growing grapes on chalk, typically produce high acid, lean wines with reserved aromatics.
There are also underground chalk quarries known as 'crayers' a tradition introduced by the Romans . They are hollow spaces which maintain a cool and humid environment year round, the conditions are perfect for wine storage.
SAND AND CLAY
The 2 sub regions Val de Riems and Valle de la Marne have soils that are comprised of clays, marls and sands.
The sub-region Cote de Sezanne has vineyards comprised of chalk and clay
Sandy soils, produce open wines with more fruity characteristics and less structure.
Clay soils, produce dense and mineral rich wines. In the youth the aromatics tend to be closed and need bottle age to express themselves.
LIMESTONE RICH MARL
The sub- region Cotes des Bar located in southern Champagne in the Aube region is located on kimmeridgean marl which is the fossilised remains of comma shaped oysters.
Throughout France their are regions that lay a top kimmeridgean marl known as the kimmeridgean ring, Cotes des Bar, Sancerre, Reuilly, Chablis, Meneton-Salon etc
Limestone rich marl does not have the water capacity like the chalk soil in 'dry Champagne' and there fore the the Aube the most southerly region of Champagne is known as 'wet Champagne'
Limestone rich soils are the preferred soils for planting Pinot Noir.
There are 7 sub-regions of Champagne
Montagne de Riems
Located south east of the city Riems
Main grape variety- Pinot Noir
Pinot Meunièr and Chardonnay are also planted
The vineyard form a half circle around a mountain
Aspect of the vines are South- East, North-West and North facing.
Soil, Chalky slopes
Val de Riems
The sub region includes the vineyards of
Massif de St-Thierry and La Vallee de L'ardre
Located west of the city Riems
Main grape variety - Pinot Noir
Pinot meunièr is also planted
Aspect of the vines are North- East and South-East facing
Soil, clays, marls and sands
Vallee de la Marne
Located west of the city of Epernay and flanks the
Main grape variety - Pinot meunièr
Aspect of the vines on the left bank are North facing and on the right bank are South facing
Soils, clays, sands, marls
Côte des Blancs
South of the city Epernay
Main grape variety - Chardonnay
Aspect of the vines is East
Soil, chalk outcroppings
Côte de Sezanne
The vineyards are located North and South of the town Sezanne.
Sezanne is located South - West of the Cotes des Blancs
Main grape variety - Chardonnay
Aspect of the vines, South- East facing
Soil, most vines are planted on parcels of clay, small amount of vineyards are planted on chalk outcroppings
Located South-East of the Cotes des Blancs and North -East of Côte de Sezanne
Main grape variety - Chardonnay
Cotes des Bar
Only sub-region located in the Aube, the southernmost vineyard area in Champagne.
Vineyards are located South-East of the city Troyes and flank the Aube and Seine rivers.
Main grape variety - Pinot Noir
aspect of the vines are South-East
Soil, Kimmeridgean lime-stone rich marls
Percentage of grapes planted in each sub-region and their soil type
There are 3 AOC's in the Champagne Region
Rose des Riceys AOC
A Pinot noir produced in the 3 villages of Les Riceys in the Aube.
Coteaux Champenois AOC
100% still wine
Covers the exact same zone of production as AOC Champagne and utilises the same grape varieties, most production in non vintage.
Echelle des Crus
established in 1911 ranks the wine producing villages and the vineyards that surround them.
The Ranking System
VIllages and their vineyards are ranked on a scale of 80-100%
At the top of the ranking system are the Grand Cru villages
Best villages have 100% rating
The are 17 villages that hold Grand Cru status
6 - Cotes des Blanc
9 - Montagne de Riems
2 - Vallee de la Marne
Villages with a rating of 90-99%
255 Cru AOC's
Villages must have a rating of atleast 80%
A producer with serveral Grand/Premier Cru vineyards can blend the fruit althogether, it does not signify a single vineyard.
Echelle des Crus set the price of grapes for the open market based on their village rating. This meant that if your Village was rated 80% you would only recieve 80% of the price. In 2005 the Echelle des Crus pricing structure was dismissed.
The first Sparkling wine ever made was by accident, could possibly be one of the worlds greatest accidents as well.
1st Sparkling Wine
A theory of what happened is that a vat of fermenting wine was stopped by an early cold snapthat effectively putting the yeast into a dormant state unitl the warmer temperatures of spring resuscitated their activity.
Presuming the wine was placed in a sealed vessel the carbon dioxide gas could not escape and was forced to dissolve into solution creating a sparkling wine.
The type of Sparkling wine production is known as either the "rural or "ancestral" method. The process is 1 fermentation that undergoes a winter pause.
Overview of the method used to produce Champagnge
Grapes are picked by hand and fermented into still wine
Wine is blended with other still wines to create one house style that remains consistent from year to year
The blend of cuvee then undergoes a second fermentation in the same bottle is will be distributed in
During this second fermentation the wine becomes a Sparkling.
3 important people must be credited with developing the Champagne method as we know today
Dom Perrignon was the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers and created the cuvee or blend, the base wine for Champagne.
He would blend and mix different proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier clusters in the press, today the grapes are pressed seperately.
Dom Perrignon also recognised the unique attributes of natural corks, they are expandable and compressible they were then included in the Champagne process.
Nicole Barbe Ponsardin or "Veuve (widow) Cliquot" is credited for developing the "A" shaped riddling racks known as 'pupitres' that secured the bottles down while they were being shaken and turned. This technique is Traditional Remuage
Brother Jean Oudart is credited for a technique used in Champagne and Sparkling production known as Liquear de tirage. Liquear de tirage is a mixture of sugar and yeast and is added to the cuvee and bottled, this guarantees a sparkling wine and a predictiable amounts of bubbles.
The Champagne process
Still wine production
All grape varieties and vineyard plots are fermented separately in stainless steel tanks
Assemblage- the crafting of the blend
Various base wines are blended together. Winemakers blend the wine in order to maintain consistency in flavour from year to year. This practise also minimises seasonal variation through the careful mixing of several past vintages held in reserve.
Vinification of Rose Champagne
Usually made by adding a small amount of red wine, Pinot noir to the white cuvée. It is also possible for producers to create a rose wine by vinifying the Pinot noir grapes as a base wine.
Tirage is the French word for bottling
Liqueur de tirage, which is a mixture of yeast and sugar is added to a blended wine or cuvée and bottled. This step marks the point of difference between methode champenois and the rural method. By adding liqueur de tirage to the blend or cuvée there is a guarantee of bubbles and it is even possible to predict the amount of sparkle.
Once the bottle is filled with the base wine and liqueur de tirage is added the bottle is sealed with a crown cap or oak and staple and placed on its side in the wine cellar. The bottles are separated by thin strips of wood called 'lattes'. Storing the bottles using this method is known as Sur Lattes
Prise de Mouse translates into seizing the foam
The term refers to the 2nd alcoholic fermentation that takes place in the same bottle from which the wine is later served. The 2nd alcoholic fermentation creates between 4.9 - 6 atmospheres of pressure.
Sur Lie aging
The yeasts die when fermentation is complete. The yeasts then start to break down and releasing proteins that contribute to a textured mouth feel and aromas of brioche, biscuits and freshly baked bread.
This process is Sur Lie aging, the longer the wine ages the more complex it becomes and the bubbles will also become smaller as the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine.
By law a non-vintage Champagne must spend 12 months on its lees (9months for Cremant) and atleast 15 months in cellar, from tirage to release.
Vintage Chamapgne has to spend a total of 3 years in the cellar.
The recommend time for sur lie aging is 18 months
Many producers will keep their Champagne lee aging for longer than 18months and in the cellar for more then 3 years.
This process is know as Remuage or Riddling. Once the Champagne and finished aging on it's lees the bottles are turned in a servers of 1/8th rotations and simultaneously shifted in order to move them from their horizontal position to a vertical position. The purpose of this step is to collect the lees into the neck of the bottle. This process usually takes 3 months.
Today there is a mechanised version, gyropalettes perform the same task. The bottles are placed in metal boxes that move the yeast up to the neck of the bottle, this process only takes 1 week.
Degorgment or Disgorgment
Once all of the yeast has been collected into the neck of the bottle the Champagne is chilled to 7.2c in order to reduce the pressure inside ( gas expands in heat and contracts in cold ) The neck of the bottle, and only the neck of the bottle is set into any icy brine solution that freezes the yeast and wine into any ice plug. Once the yeast in the neck of the bottle is frozen the bottle is turned upright, crown cap or cork and staple is removed and the pressure inside the bottles ejects the ice plug containing the yeast.
A la Volee - A traditional method of Disgorgment
Although uncommon this method is still used today. A la Volee is the process of disgorging wine without chilling the wine. The sediment is removed by the cellar worker by hand.
Liqueur de dosage or liqueur d'expedition
During the Disgorgment process some wine in the bottle is lost, is it then replenished back to its original fill level using liqueur de dosage which is a mixture of still reserve wine and sugar.
A wine that is only replenished with still wine is known as Brut Nature.
Most Champagne has a small amount of sugar added to balance out the high acid levels. The heavier the dosage the sweeter the wine. Madame Pommery during the 19th century set the trend for a drier style of Champagne, previous to this most Champagne was produced was in the sweetest style known as 'doux'
The sweet designations of Chamapgne
From driest to sweetest the percentage indicates the amount of residual sugar in the finished product
Brut nature 0-0.3% No Dosage
Extra brut 0-0.6%
Extra dry (extra sec) 1.2-1.7%
Dry (sec) 1.7-3.2%
Doux - over 5%
Champagne undergoes it's second fermentation inside the bottle from which it is served, larger sized bottles do not. After a standard size bottle ((750ml) has been disgorged they are used to fill larger format bottles.
Magnum 2 bottles
Jeroboam 4 bottles
Rehoboam 6 bottles
Methuselah 8 bottles
Salamanazer 12 bottles
Balthazar 16 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar 20 bottles
The bottle closure
To secure all that pressure inside the Champagne bottle more than a cork is needed.
After liqueur de dosage is added the Champagne cork is inserted
The wire cage is dropped on top and twisted closed
The bottle is then shaken thoroughly to help integrate the liqueur de dosage. The bottle goes back to the cellar, allowing time for the liqueur de dosage and Champagne to come together. Once Champagne has had time to completely integrate with the dosage they are then washed, dried and decorated with a foil capsule moulded on top. The wine is labeled and is ready for sale.
STYLES OF CHAMPAGNE
Non Vintage vs Vintage
Non-Vintage Champagne , a blend of multiple vintages blended into their a house style, most Champagne is non-vintage
Vintage Champagne, is produced from 1 single growing season and only crafted in good vintages.
Tete de Cuvee
Most Champagnes house have a superior line, they will label these wines Tete de Cuvee
Blanc de Noirs
White sparkling made from black grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier
Blanc de Blanc
White sparkling made from white grapes
Structured and powerful Champagne with notable tannic grip
Nomenclature, 2 small letters found on the label of Champagne. Understanding the Nomenclauture will allow you to be aware of how the grapes were grown and who has produced the wine
NM - Negociant Manipulant
All big Champagne houses
Producers that incorporate grapes purchased from others
RM - Recolant Manipulant
Does NOT purchase grapes from others
Producer only vinifys their own grapes, estate grow grapes
RC - Recolant Cooperateur
Vine growers affiliated with a wine making co operative
Vigerons bring their grapes to a co-op which vinifies them and returns the finished product, they will then sell the wine under their private label
MA - Marque auxiliaire, Marque d'acheteur, Marque autorisee
Private label registered by any individual, group or society
SR - Societe de recoltants
Group of grape growers who jointly vinify and sell one communal or several communal blends
CM - Cooperative de manipulation
Cooperative cellar which vinifies the grapes of its member growers
ND - Negociant distributeur
A wine buyer who purchases wine and sells it under their own private label