10 Things You Must Know About Champagne
Before you explore the wonderful world of Champagne, familiarise yourself with a few key facts beforehand. Perhaps you already know all of these but then again, maybe you’ll learn something new!
1. Champagne Is A Wine
It sounds like stating the obvious, but often Champagne is considered an entirely separate entity to still wines. Indeed, Champagne is made from fermented grapes following similar cultivation techniques as other wines.
However, Champagne is exceptional in that it must follow unique procedures in order to obtain its bubbles. Strict guidelines drawn out by the appellation, along with highly protective officially controlled designation of origin, ensure that Champagne’s identity is protected from corner-cutting.
2. It’s Made Only In Champagne, France
Naturally, many are aware of the fact that Champagne comes from France. However, for some years Champagne struggled with other sparkling wines, which would use its name and prestige to sell their own.
Champagne comes specifically from a region of the same name in north-eastern France 100 km (62 miles) east of Paris. However, the wine producing region patchworks across it and into other neighbouring regions too.
Significantly, to differentiate the two the beverage takes the masculine in the French language (le Champagne) where-as the region itself is feminine (la Champagne).
The aforementioned Appellation ensures that a sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if its made within this strict 35,000 hectare (84,000 acre) region. Meanwhile, the Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine or CIVC enforces this at home and abroad.
You can learn all about this place, its climate and geography with our detailed Champagne geography guide.
3. It’s Made With Both Black & White Grapes
The Champagne region has been making white wine from red grapes since the Middle Ages. This was originally done at the height of their bitter rivalry with their Burgundian neighbours. Burgundy reds were rich in colour whilst Champagne’s attempts were often weaker or even pink.
When Dom Pérignon came onto the scene in the mid-16th Century, he, therefore, improved these techniques. In order to make clear white wine from black grapes, they were pressed quickly and gently to prevent the skins from macerating with the juice.
Overall, Champagne is made with three major grapes. The most famous black grape is Pinot Noir, which is also used in Burgundy. However, they also use another black grape called Pinot Meunier as well as a white grape, Chardonnay. Read more about these with our Champagne grape guide.
4. It’s Blended (Most Of The Time)
Outside of France, it’s quite common for the grape to be mentioned on a label before or instead of the region. This is especially typical with New World wines. Although many French wines have adapted to this tendency, the region has always come first as it is a stronger indicator of a wine’s identity.
However, sometimes the grape isn’t mentioned because it features more than one. For example, in Bordeaux, they mix Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc amongst others.
Similarly, many Champagnes blend their grapes as mentioned in the section above to produce unique flavours. However, unlike any other wine, they even blend the years.
A blend of Champagne can feature up to 30 to 50 harvests from different villages, grapes and vintages. All this is undertaken to ensure that every time you open that house’s Champagne, it will unquestionably taste the same.
However, there are exceptions. For instance, there are vintage Champagnes and blends that only use one colour of grape. Head this way and read more about the different varieties of Champagne!
5. Champagne Is Fermented Twice
Unlike Prosecco and some Cavas, Champagne goes through intense phases of fermentation and ageing. Where Prosecco never leaves the stainless steel pressurised autoclave vat until bottled for sale, Champagne spends most of its time ageing in a bottle.
The grapes are fermented in vats or casks right after the press until no sugar is left. Following that, the still wine is then bottled with a mix of yeast and sugar, which is sealed with a beer cap. While it ages in the bottle, the sugar and yeast chemically react and produce gas, which creates the effervescence.
Champagnes will age at least 12 months like this but undergo other procedures to ensure they age properly. However, some will sit for far longer before they see the light of day. Read all about how Champagne is made with our easy guide.
6. You Can Drink It Straight Away
Some wines can age for decades after being bottled. Many will sit in the cellars of merchants and collectors for years before being opened. During this time, they accumulate complexity and value.
However, in Champagne they do it differently. Instead, Champagne will remain in the house’s cellar, sealed with a bottle cap, until aged to perfection. Only when they deem it ready will the houses release their wines for sale. When the time comes, the cap is removed and it is corked.
Although some enthusiasts like to age their Champagnes after corking, you don’t have to. If you have a bottle, why wait and deprive yourself of the pleasure? Just remember to serve the Champagne properly and at the right temperature!
7. It Can Be Diet-Friendly
Generally, drinking fine alcoholic beverages is a nightmare when on a diet. Therefore, isn’t it wonderful, then, that some Champagnes contain no sugar? Furthermore, unlike Diet Coke, it’s 100% natural and somewhat more refined!
Learn more about Champagne sugar concentration with our piece on choosing the right Champagne for you!
8. It Was Discovered By Accident
Despite two popular yet opposing beliefs, sparkling wine wasn’t invented by Benedictine Monk, Dom Pérignon, nor English scientist, Christopher Merret. Nevertheless, they both contributed greatly to moulding Champagne into what it is today.
As a matter of fact, the phenomenon of sparkling wine was discovered by accident during the middle ages in the Saint Hilaire Abbey. Other Benedictine monks near Carcassone soon began to realise that wine bottled after fermenting in oak casks sometimes developed bubbles.
Learn more about the history of Champagne and how it’s made with our dedicated guide on Champagne’s identity.
9. The British Love Champagne
Indeed, the French exported a record-breaking 34 million bottles to the UK in 2015. Aside from the French who bought 162 million bottles themselves, the British drink more Champagne than any other country.
Furthermore, some of the most prestigious Champagne houses have a Royal Warrant granted by the British Royal Family. Krug, Bollinger and Moët & Chandon are perhaps the most famous. However, the honour also belongs to GH Mumm, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot and Lanson.
10. It’s Not Always Expensive
The major houses may dominate the market and export the most for consumption abroad. However, among the 320 official Champagne villages, there are 300 major Champagne houses as well as 15,800 producers behind them.
Surely, such huge numbers means that there are many little-known and obscure Champagnes out there waiting to be discovered. Furthermore, with their brands not having yet experienced fame, they can be incredibly cheap! For example, good bottles can fetch for as little as 15 € (18 USD) whilst vintage Champagnes can be found for around 20 € (24 USD).
Enjoy reading our top 10 facts about Champagne? There’s without doubt a world out there waiting to be discovered! Learn things like the best glasses for drinking it or even how to properly taste Champagne with our guides.