What is champagne

By Ryan Walters
Info Guru,

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golden bottle of champagne and glasses
While defined as a white sparkling wine, not all sparkling white wines are champagne
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A delicious sparkling white wine, champagne has been used through out the years to toast special occasions.

Here's a little history about how champagne came to be. The word is derived from the Latin campagna, meaning countryside. Champagne is the name for a specific area of France, so named in the Middle Ages. Although other French wine-producing regions claim to have made sparkling wine earlier, this area was the first place to produce it in significant quantities.

Grape vines were first planted in the Champagne region by monks from the local abbeys. At first, the only wines produced there were still (meaning they were not sparkling) table wines. In the late 17th century, however, clerical winegrowers made the transition from still to sparkling wines.

Legend has it that the Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, invented champagne. Although Dom Pérignon was an important figure in the development of viticulture (the cultivation of grapes) and wine-making, sparkling wine probably emerged gradually as part of a regional style. It may also have emerged by default as the cold winters in northern France caused table wine to stop fermenting and start up again in the spring, producing bubbles in the bottle.

It was not until the first half of the 19th century that a thriving commercial business sprang up to produce champagne, when such famous champagne houses as Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Bollinger, and Moët et Chandon were established.

The method of production used by them remains the same today: the first fermentation produces still, acidic wine. Before this is bottled, a small measure of wine, sugar, and yeast is added (known as the liqueur de tirage) and the bottle is sealed. The liqueur de tirage triggers a second fermentation inside the bottle, and the carbon dioxide bubbles are trapped inside. The bottle is tilted upside down and turned at regular intervals to shake the yeasty deposits down into the neck.

At the end of this process, known as remuage, the neck is frozen and the bottle opened to allow a plug of icy lees (sediment) to shoot out (dégorgement). The bottle is then topped off with a small amount of still wine and sugar solution (called liqueur d'expédition) and resealed. The amount of sugar used at this point determines whether the champagne is Brut (very dry), Sec (off-dry), or Demi-Sec (medium-sweet). Classic champagne characteristics produced by this labor-intensive method are a toasty or yeasty scent, high acidity, elegant fruit character, and a complex depth of flavor.

This process of making sparkling wine has been copied by wine-makers in many other parts of the world. These producers may put the words méthode traditionnelle on bottles to indicate that the champagne method has been used, but they may not legally use the words champagne or méthode champenoise.

The three grapes used in champagne production are white Chardonnay and the red varieties Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine-maker must be careful to acquire clear juice from the red grapes for standard champagne. To make rosé champagne, a small proportion of still red wine made from Pinot vines is usually added after first fermentation. Rosé champagne tends to have a more fruity character. Champagne labeled blanc de blancs is made only from Chardonnay grapes, blanc de noirs from red grapes alone. Vintage champagne comes from the wine of a single year only; nonvintage can be a blend of wines from different years. Not every year produces either vintage or prestige varieties, though recently about one-in-three years have done so.

Champagne is designed be drunk upon purchase, and in nearly all cases is not meant to be collectible. A non-vintage Champagne will begin losing quality within only three or four years, while prestige Champagnes may last up to fifteen years without degrading. Champagne is normally drunk from either a flute or tulip glass, both of which are skinny and tall. This shape allows the scents of the Champagne to reach their full potential, and helps the bubbles last for longer than in flatter, larger-bowled glasses.

The bubbles in champagne offer a wonderful opportunity to evaluate the wine by sight. A good champagne should have the tiniest bubbles possible, and they should last for longer than seems possible. Sparkling wines from other parts of the world – especially those which artificially add carbonation or use tank methods to create bubbling – have much larger bubbles, and the wine will go flat much more quickly than true champagne.

Champagne can range in texture and style greatly, depending on the mix of grapes used, the dosage of the Champagne, and the shipper who produced it. There are over a hundred different producers of Champagne in France, and each produces its own unique style of wine, ensuring that for nearly any occasion or dish, there is an ideal match.

Naturally, prices for champagne vary considerably. You can find some wonderful deals by going online and shopping at one of the many reputable wine merchants who will be able to assist you with your purchase and have it delivered directly to your door. Champagne also makes a wonderful gift to show your appreciation for a special favor or in celebration of memorable occasion.

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