Champagne is located 150 kilometers east of Paris and is renowned worldwide for its production of Champagne wine. It is the northernmost wine producing region of France. Champagne is comprised of four regions: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Bar. They total 34,000 hectares of vineyard.
There are 319 villages (Crus) with 44 classified as “Premiers Crus” and 17 with the highest ranking of “Grands Crus”.
Champagne’s vineyards are planted at 50 to 300 meters above sea level on south and east facing slopes. This facilitates ideal sun exposure and water drainage for good ripening.
Champagne Climate & Soil Composition
The climate is a confluence of oceanic and continental weather systems creating frosty winters and a low annual average of 12 degrees centigrade. These influences directly impact the low alcohol and acidity of the regions premium Champagne.
Champagne has a wide range of limestone soils (chalk, marl and limestone proper). Some vineyards, such as in Côte des Blancs, feature areas of exposed chalk erupting through the top-soil. Conversely, Montagne de Reims’ chalk deposits are buried deeply beneath the vines.
Chalky soils create duress for the vines, driving their root systems to seek water deeper in the earth. The chalky earth and resultant hardship deliver a beautiful balance of acidity and aroma. The Grand Cru villages are characterized by having the most chalk dense soils.
In Champagne, seven grape varietals are legally recognised for the creation of authentic ‘Champagne’. Only three of those varietals are considered ‘noble’ and commonly used. In total, Pinot Noir represents 39% of total Champagne production, Pinot Meunier represents 33% and Chardonnay 28%.
Pinot Noir grapes are mostly planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar, Pinot Meunier in the Vallée de la Marne and Chardonnay has found a perfect home in the Côte des Blancs.
In a classic Champagne blend, the tension, backbone and characteristic red berry aroma comes from Pinot Noir grapes, the Meunier brings roundness and the Chardonnay finishes with apple, brioche and minerality.
Champagne undergoes one of the most complex processes before sale. After harvest, grapes are pressed and undergo an alcoholic fermentation and commonly, a malolactic fermentation (at the producers discretion). The resultant still wine is then blended with other batches to obtain a ‘house style’. This still blend is then bottled with sugar for a second fermentation to achieve Champagne’s defining effervescence. The bottles mature for a long time at an average temperature of 12 degrees in the deep cool cellars of Champagne. Maturation takes between 12 and 36 months.
At the end of this period, each bottle must be strained of fermentation residue (lees) in a process called ‘disgorgement’. The neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap released and the frozen plug (containing the unwanted sediment) is ejected by the bottle’s internal pressure. The process is often aided by or performed solely by hand.
Finally, before corking, producers add their signature “liqueur de dosage”, injecting a secret combination of wine and sugar to create their Champagne’s most defining features.
Styles of Champagne are:
Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter)
Demi-sec (32-50 grams of sugar)
Sec (17-32 grams of sugar)
Extra-dry (12-17 grams of sugar)
Brut (less than 12 grams of sugar)
Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar)
Brut Nature or Dosage Zero (less than 3 grams of sugar and no added sugar in the final “liqueur de dosage”)