A beginner's guide to champagne
What is champagne?
A sparkling wine can only be called champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, in France. “The region produces wines that are very fresh and elegant, which is one of the key attributes of champagne and what sets it apart from other sparkling wines," Christian says. "That, plus hundreds of years of practice.”
This prized viticultural region (which was UNESCO World Heritage-listed for its cultural significance in 2015) lies in the north-east of France and is home to more than 300 villages, 4500 grape growers, many hundreds of champagne houses and more than 5000 brands.
What is not champagne?
Sparkling wines from any other region in France. These are labelled cremant (and they can represent excellent quality and value for money — look out for cremant de Loire, Bourgogne and Alsace). Sparkling wines from anywhere else in the world are simply labelled sparkling wine. This includes prosecco from Italy, cava from Spain and sekt from Germany.
What grapes are used in champagne?
“There are three main grape varieties used to make champagne,” Christian says, “Pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier – and each contributes special characteristics to the final blend.”
Pinot noir and pinot meunier are both dark-skinned grapes, and are responsible for giving champagne structure and body, while also imparting forest fruit aromas. Chardonnay is essential for giving champagne its freshness and acidity, as well as its biscuity and brioche characteristics.
How is champagne made?
A defining feature of champagne is that it is always made in the methode champenoise (or traditional method) which produces natural bubbles that are finer and longer-lasting than other carbonation methods.
“What is unique about the methode champenoise,” Christian says, “is that after the first fermentation in the barrel, champagne is bottled, yeast is added and then the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. This is how champagne develops its signature bread and biscuit characteristics.”