Champagne Wine Region: Getting Started


November 22, 2012 Blog » Learn About Wine » Champagne Wine Region: Getting Started

Heidsieck champagne illustration by Alfons Mucha during the Belle Epoque

“Champagne and Biscuits” by Alfons Mucha (1901)


Why We Drink Champagne

Champagne. The thing we drink when celebrating…but why? And where does Champagne come from?

Champagne established itself during the Belle Époque, an era of peace and prosperity in France from 1890 till World War I. During this time, the new rich prowled Paris looking for entertainment. It was when the Moulin Rouge was in its prime.
 
Party Drink Artists in the early 1900′s, like Alfons Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec, were hired by Champagne houses to depict the wine as a celebratory beverage. This New Year’s Eve, 90 million bottles of sparkling wine will be opened in the US.

So where does all this Champagne come from?

Champagne Map by Wine Folly

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Champagne Region Department Map

Where Champagne is From

Drive Northeast from Paris about 90 miles and you’ll be in the epicenter of Champagne. Vineyards are everywhere. The local cities of Epernay and Reims are home to the major Champagne producers such as Mumm and Moet Chandon.
 
82,000 acres of vineyards produce an average of a million bottles of Champagne a day.
 
 

How Many Regions in Champagne?

 
There are 5 Regions with 17 growing areas.

Montagne de Reims
Mostly Pinot Noir, many tête de cuvée wines from major Champagne houses come from here.
Côte des Blancs
Mostly Chardonnay. Chalk-based soils produce wine with higher acidity. Wines are elegant and racey.
Vallée de la Marne
Mostly Pinot Meunier, a grape known for its fruity and unctuous flavors.
Côte des Sézanne
Mostly Chardonnay with soils of both chalk and marl. Wines are aromatic with less acidity than Côte des Blancs.
The Aube
(aka Côte des Bar) Mostly Pinot Noir in marl soils, aromatic wines with less acidity

Six Different styles of Champagne

Examples of the 6 different styles of Champagne: Non-Vintage, Vintage, Prestige Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé


 

What are the Different Champagne Styles?

Non-Vintage (NV)
Traditional. The most traditional of all Champagne styles. Non-vintage Champagne is a blend of multiple varieties and vintages of wine. The goal is to blend a consistent wine every year. Minimum aging is 1.5 years.
Vintage Millésime
Traditional. There have been 46 years denoted as vintage years in the last 60 years. Vintage Champagnes are aged a minimum of 3 years prior to release.
Cuvée de prestige
Traditional. This is the tête de cuvée or “Grande Cuvee” of a Champagne house–the very best wine a house produces.
Blanc de Blancs
Non-traditional. A Champagne made completely of white grapes like Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs
Non-traditional. A Champagne made completely with black grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Rosé
Traditional. Typically a blend of white and red wine to create a pink wine prior to secondary fermentation. The Saignée Method is also practiced.

What Does Brut Mean?

Brut is the level of sweetness in Champagne. The level of sweetness varies in Champagne from “Brut Zero” as in no sweetness to “Doux” as in SWEET DESSERT! Brut has a lot of wiggle room in sweetness as you’ll see below, whereas Extra Brut and Brut Nature are very focused in their styles. This can be helpful in sorting out what you like.

Brut Nature
Brut Zero 0-3 g/l RS
Extra Brut
0-6 g/l RS
Brut
0-12 g/l RS
Extra Dry
12-17 g/l RS
Dry
17-32 g/l RS
Demi-Sec
32-50 g/l RS
Doux
50+ g/l RS
french-champagne-dosage-being-added-1930s

The dosage is kept in bottles on top of these machines (1930s France)

Where does the sweetness in Champagne come from?

Sweetness in Champagne is from the dosage. A Champagne dosage is a mixture of sugar and wine (cane sugar, beet sugar or grape must) that is added after the 2nd fermentation is finished. Most Champagnes contain about 8-12 grams/liter.
 
 

grower-champagne-gift-set

The Ultimate Grower Champagne Gift Set

You can taste the 3 major regions of Champagne. These wines are both sophisticated and approachable. A perfect libation for the holidays.
 

Sources
French wikipedia on Champagne
English wikipedia on Champagne




By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards.