Behind and beyond the word “champagne”

Some use the term champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, but in most countries, it is illegal to officially label any product champagne unless it both comes from the champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

The champagne winemaking community, under the auspices of the comité interprofessionnel du vin de champagne (civc), has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economic interests. They include codification of the most suitable growing places; the most suitable grape types and a lengthy set of requirements specifying most aspects of viticulture.

This includes pruning, vineyard yield, the degree of pressing, and the time that wine must remain on its lees before bottling. It can also limit the release of champagne to market to maintain prices. Only when a wine meets these requirements may it be labelled champagne

Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, but most legal structures reserve the word champagne exclusively for sparkling wines from the champagne region, made in accordance with civc regulations. In the European union and many other countries the name champagne is legally protected by the madrid system under an 1891 treaty, which reserved it for the sparkling wine produced in the eponymous region and adhering to the standards defined for it as an appellation d’origine contrôlée; the protection was reaffirmed in the treaty of versailles after world war I. Similar legal protection has been adopted by over 70 countries.

There are more than 100 champagne houses and 19,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers) in champagne. These companies manage some 32,000 hectares of vineyards in the region. The type of champagne producer can be identified from the abbreviations followed by the official number on the bottle:

  • Nm: négociant manipulant. These companies (including the majority of the larger brands) buy grapes and make the wine
  • Rm: récoltant manipulant. (also known as grower champagne) a grower that also makes wine from its own grapes.
  • Rc: récoltant coopérateur. A co-operative member selling champagne produced by the co-operative under its own name and label
  • Ma: marque auxiliaire or marque d’acheteur. A brand name unrelated to the producer or grower; the name is owned by someone else, for example a supermarket

The primary grapes used in the production of champagne are black pinot noir and pinot meunier but also white chardonnay.

  • Chardonnay (30% of production surface) gives freshness, elegance and finesse
  • Pinot noir (38% of production surface) adds body, structure, aroma and complexity of flavors.
  • Pinot meunier (32% of production surface) brings fruits and floral aromas.

Most of the champagne produced today is “non-vintage”, meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are favourable, some producers will make a vintage wine that must be composed of 100% of the grapes from that vintage year.

Prestige cuvée:

A cuvée de prestige is considered to be the top of a producer’s range, often named after notable people with a link to that producer and presented in non-standard bottle shapes. A special champagne for special people and special occasion!

Blanc de noirs:

A french term (literally “white from black”) for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes.

Blanc de blancs:

A french term that means “white from whites”, and is used to designate champagnes made exclusively from chardonnay grapes

Rosé champagne:

Pink champagne are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time (known as the saignée method) or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée.

Vallee de la marne

Located on the slopes of clay and limestone soils, the dominant grape is pinot meunier . Champagnes of the Marne valley, thanks to their great diversity, have a seductive bouquet of fruity and smoothness.

Montagne de reims

Predominantly exposed to the south, the hills are located on soils with chalk is deeply buried. The dominant grape is pinot noir. In the cellars of the montagne de reims based champagnes known for their power, their structure and their nobility.

Cotes des blancs

Owes its name to the colour of the grape that is planted: 95% chardonnay. Champagnes in this area include the term “blanc de blancs“. The flush chalk is everywhere , true water tank and heat basements . Cote white gives birth to popular champagnes, full of vivacity and spirit, light and delicate aromas, symbols finesse and elegance.

Methode champenoise

The traditional method by which champagne is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast (each brand has its own secret recipe) and several grams of rock sugar. According to the appellation d’origine contrôlée a minimum of 1.5 years in the cellar is required to completely develop all the flavour.

After aging, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage (or “riddling” in english), so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed, this process called degorgement (or disgorging). The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked. Some wine from previous vintages as well as additional sugar (le dosage) is added to maintain the level within the bottle and, importantly, adjust the sweetness of the finished wine.

Sweetness

The ripeness of the grapes and the amount of sugar added after the second fermentation—dosage—varies and will affect the amount of sugar remaining in the champagne when bottled for sale, and hence the sweetness of the finished wine. Wines labeled brut zero, more common among smaller producers, have no added sugar and will usually be very dry, with less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre in the finished wine. The following terms are used to describe the sweetness of the bottled wine:

  • Extra brut (less than 6 grams of residual sugar per litre)
  • Brut (between 12 and 17 grams)
  • Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 grams)
Bubbles

The bubbles contain 99 % carbon dioxide (co2 = carbon dioxide) dissolved and flavorings. The dissolved co2 is the fruit of the ” champagnization “, that is to say, the second fermentation obtained from yeast in the bottle (as opposed to the 1st fermentation , which itself is obtained in open tanks )

A bottle of champagne 75cl can thus contain up to 5 liters of dissolved co2 (either a pressure of about 5 bars ) . It is the sudden release of this gas during uncorking of the bottle which explains the ejection force of the stopper, its speed up to 50 km / hour !

Champagne bottle

Champagne is mostly fermented in two sizes of bottles, standard bottles (750 millilitres), and magnums (1.5 litres). In general, magnums are thought to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface are a favours the creation of appropriately sized bubbles. However, there is no hard evidence for this view. Other bottle sizes, named for biblical figures, are generally filled with champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums.

Champagne cork

Champagne corks are built from several sections and are referred to as agglomerated corks. The mushroom shape that occurs in the transition is a result of the bottom section, which is in contact with the wine, being composed of two stacked discs of pristine cork, cemented to the upper portion.

Cold but not frozen

Champagne must be serve at 8c. Older champagne, millesime or vintage champagne can be serve at warmer temperature (around 12c). To cool down a bottle of champagne, the ideal method is to plunge th bottle in a ice bucket for 20 minutes.

Opening champagne bottles

To reduce the risk of spilling or spraying any champagne, open the champagne bottle by holding the cork and rotating the bottle at an angle in order to ease out the stopper. This method, as opposed to pulling the cork out, prevents the cork from flying out of the bottle at speed.

A sabre can be used to open a champagne bottle with great ceremony. This technique is called sabrage.

Pouring champagne

Pouring sparkling wine while tilting the glass at an angle and gently sliding in the liquid along the side will preserve the most bubbles, as opposed to pouring directly down to create a head of “mousse”, according to the study on the losses of dissolved co2 during champagne serving. Colder bottle temperatures also result in reduced loss of gas.

Spraying champagne

Champagne has been an integral part of sports celebration since Moët & Chandon started offering their champagne to the winners of Formula 1 Grand Prix events. At the 1967 24 hours of le mans, winner Dan Gurney started the tradition of drivers spraying the crowd and each other.

Although champagne is an alcoholic drink that should be consumed in moderation, it has significant therapeutic value.

  • A champagne flute contains some 4,000 components in ionic form: minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and lithium (a natural mood regulator) but also vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Its formula also includes molecules identical to those of certain aesthetic drugs. At low doses, it stimulates the brain and produces a euphoric effect.
  • The champagne has many therapeutic properties. Its light acidity and action of its components on the duodenum attenuate liver problems due to overeating.The intake of magnesium, copper, ionic iron, calcium and zinc makes an excellent champagne soporific. It also effectively asleep that hypnotic products, but without the side effects (except in cases of abuse.).
  • Researchers at Reading university in the UK have demonstrated the surprising effects champagne on memory. Indeed, this drink appears to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and helps maintain cognitive functions. The champagne thus enables slow memory loss due to age!
  • The carbon dioxide champagne stimulates gland secretions of the stomach and the appetite.
  • It is a common perception that people become intoxicated more quickly from champagne. It has been shown that alcohol is more rapidly absorbed when mixed with carbonated water, and this may explain this anecdotal assertion – always drink in moderation!