Champagne lies just east of Paris. At the first look it might seem as though Champagne is just another one of France’s awesome wine making regions. Don’t mean to say it isn’t, but there’s a little more to it than that.
While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been successfully cultivated in many areas other than Bordeaux and Burgundy, some examples are Napa Valley in California and Coonawarra in Australia, there are no really successful imitators of Champagne and it’s sparkling wine.
Of course we can’t dismiss the fact that there are other regions that produce excellent sparkling wines. The region of Cava (in Spain) at least deserves mention, together with Sekt (in Germany). However one will still think of Champagne first.
We all know that when we have reason to celebrate we reach for the Champagne. Our culture is shaped in this way. Other regions have different styles of sparkling wines, which are, in essence, interesting. All this means is that Champagne enjoys a better reputation in the world of wine making.
So let’s take a closer look at the region of Champagne. First of all, it’s the only region that is almost entirely dedicated to producing sparkling wine. While other wines are more influenced by the climate and variety, for this region the process is unique in several ways. First we’ll take a look at the three varieties which are allowed for the appellation.
Champagne is made ouf of three wine types
The grape responsible for some of the finest red wines in the world, makes for around 40% of all of Champagne’s vineyards. It is well suited to the chalky terroir found in some of Champagne’s villages. The Pinot Noir accounts not only as an important component, but as a source of red wine to allow the creation of rose Champagne.
The subject of a little bit under 30% of the vineyards in Champagne is Chardonnay. There are some villages like Cramant and Avize which produce very good Chardonnay. Chardonnay likes chalky soil, much like Pinot Noir, however where Pinot Noir is rich and shows lots of depth, Chardonnay is elegant and brings freshness.
A little over 30% of the plantings in Champagne, Pinot Meunier is the third component used in the creation of Champagne’s sparkling wine. Unlike Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Pinot Meunier is a variety specific to the region of Champagne. The special trait of this grape variety is it’s natural tendency to complete a palate, so it completes the Pinot Noir – Chardonnay duo nicely.
Now that we know what it’s made of, let’s take a look at some of the processes required to turn the three into the sparkling wine we all know.
Sparkling wine is made using the Champagne method
The sparkle is ensured with the addition of “liqueur de tirage” in the wine, which is really a combination of the three wine types mentioned above. Mix in fresh yeast, to get a second fermentation underway, as well as sugar as required for the fermentation process. Then the bottles are capped and left in a dark cellar at about 12 degrees Celsius.
The yeast dying in the wine bottle left a clump of stuff on the bottom of the bottle. This was a problem, and the solution was a piece of wooden board with many holes to fit bottles. What you do is gradually turn the bottles upside down. This encourages the sediment to go down into the neck of the bottle, and therefore be removed. A quite laborious process but one that ensures a clean bottle for us to enjoy.
While these make up for more than 99% of the vineyards in Champagne, there are other varieties being planted, like Pinot Gris, but they are in such small numbers that they hardly have any reputation aside from the fact that they exist.
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