Champagne

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France under special rules which require secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle in order to create carbonation.

Champagne has become an integral part of sports celebrations ever since Moët et Chandon started offering their wines to the winners of Formula One Grand Prix races – and in 1967, 24 Hour Le Mans winner, Dan Gurney, started the tradition of drivers spraying champagne over each other and the crowd.

There are of course many sparkling wines produced all over the world, yet most legal structures reserve the word ‘champagne’ exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with the rules of the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne.

HistoryMethodTypesBottle Sizes
Contrary to popular belief, the monk Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine, but he did make important contributions to the production and quality of the wines of Champagne. The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in about 1530. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended.
The principle grapes used in production are Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot – and Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne is made. After primary fermentation and bottling, the second alcoholic fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is induced by adding a few grams of yeast and rock sugar. According to the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée a minimum of one and a half years is required to completely develop all the flavour. In years when the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared and some Champagnes will be made from and labelled as the product of a single vintage rather than a blend of different years’ harvests (non vintage). This means that the Champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the Champagne bottle is sealed with a seal similar to that used on beer bottles.
After ageing, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or by a machine in a process called remuage, so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup (dosage) is added to maintain the level within the bottle and, where necessary, adjust the sweetness of the finished wine.
A Prestige Cuvée is a proprietary blended champagne that is considered to be the top of a producer’s range, for example Moutard Brut Prestige.
Blanc de Blancs is a French term that means “white from whites” and is used to denote Champagnes that are made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes or on rare occasions from Pinot Blanc.
The rosé wines of Champagne (or Pink Champagne) are made either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on the skins for a short time (known as the saignée method) or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée. Champagne is typically light in colour even when produced with red grapes, as the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins. Rosé Champagne is one of the few wines that allows the production of Rosé by the addition of a small quantity of red wine during the blending. This ensures a predictable colour, allowing a constant Rosé year after year.
Champagne is nearly always fermented in two sizes of bottles, either standard bottles (75 centilitres), or magnums (1.5 litres). In general magnums are considered to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle and the volume to surface area favours the creation of appropriately sized bubbles. However there is no real evidence for this. Other bottle sizes, named after Biblical figures, are generally filled with Champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums.

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