The Complete Champagne Guide
Posted on July 22 2021
We understand that champagne is confusing at times, and rightfully so. It entails a complex winemaking technique as well as a plethora of French terms. So, let's break down champagne into its primary elements.
Hence, consider this guide a starting point if you think the distinction between champagne, Prosecco, and any other sparkling wine from around the world seems a little unclear.
Origin Of Champagne
Not all sparkling wine is authentic champagne; that is why a certain champagne follows strict guidelines in using that label. Typically, almost all bottles have an alcohol content of 12.5%.
A hundred years ago, champagne was regarded as a lousy wine when winemakers were trying to develop Burgundy-like still wines. It was born partly by accident and, more precisely, by climate. However, winemakers came to accept the fizziness, resulting in the namesake “Méthode Champenoise” or champagne method. Winemakers do things a little differently than the rest of the world’s winery by adhering to their region's specific conditions
Thereafter, by law, a bottle of wine must follow the “Méthode Champenoise” or the traditional production method and must come from the wine region of Champagne, France, to acquire the label of genuine and authentic "Champagne.” This region is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée or controlled designation of origin.
Moreover, there are five major growing areas in Champagne, each with a specific variety of grapes. Furthermore, it's simple to see why it is in a class by itself in the world of sparkling wine once you appreciate the characteristics of each region within Champagne.
Classic Method Of Processing Champagne
The standard procedure has three distinct stages. Making a basic still wine is the most important process, given that it’s the first method. The winemaker then blends different still wines from different grape cultivars, harvest years, and harvest plots in a blending process known as assemblage. Finally, there's the bottle fermentation period, which gives the blended wine its signature fizz. These stages summarize the entire procedure, but there is much more to it.
Different Styles of Champagne
The style depends on the producer’s selection of grape cultivars. These may include:
- Blanc de Blancs. It is produced from Chardonnay or white grapes and has a light and fresh flavor.
- Blanc de Noirs. It is extracted carefully from red grapes to omit the red pigment, and it also has a rich and dense flavor.
- Rosé Champagne. It is made from carefully extracted red grape juice or a combination of red and white wine. Moreover, it has an intense fruity flavor with notes of berries.
Levels of Champagne Sweetness
Brut Nature - 0-3g/L sugar
Extra Brut - 0-6g/L sugar
Brut - 0-12g/L sugar
Extra Sec - 12-17g/L sugar
Sec - 17-32g/L sugar
Demi-Sec - 32-50g/L sugar
Doux - 50+g/L sugar
Champagnes may also be vintage or non-vintage. Vintage champagnes must mature for at least three years in the bottle. In comparison, non-vintage champagnes must age for fifteen months or more.
Now, this gives us an understanding that the production of champagne is a labor-intensive, time-consuming, and meticulous process. Hence, champagne stands above the sparkling wine industry, especially when it comes to prestige, quality, and price.