Champagne Wine Region: Getting Started
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?
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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.
83,000 acres (34,000 ha) of vineyards produce an average of a million bottles of Champagne a day!
How Many Regions in Champagne?
There are 5 Main Regions with 17 sub-regions.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 0-12 g/l RS
- Extra Dry
- 12-17 g/l RS
- 17-32 g/l RS
- 32-50 g/l RS
- 50+ g/l RS
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.