Champagne: A Guide Through This Iconic Bubbly

I love sparkling wine and I’m very excited to write about this subject. With the holidays around the corner and with so many different types of sparkling wine, I’ve decided to focus this blog on Champagne, the king of bubbly.

Here is some information about Champagne and its various styles.

PROFILE: Medium to full-bodied sparkling wine.

AREA: Champagne, Reims, France. Located 145 km North-East of Paris.

TERROIR: Cool climate. This helps create the fresh acidity found in the wine of Champagne.
Latitude/Altitude: 49° 18’/ 91 m. Sloping Vineyards. Annual Precipitation: average of 628 mm.
Predominantly limestone subsoil which helps keep the vines watered throughout the year.

Four Main Grape Growing Areas: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bars.

GRAPE VARIETIES USED: Champagne is made from either one or a combination of the following grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.

The white grape varieties Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot blanc and Pinot Gris may also be present in small amounts.

Some may be surprised to find that Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are often present in Champagne despite it usually being a light-coloured wine.  The grapes in Champagne are pressed very lightly (with the exception of Rosé) so that there is not much contact with the grape’s skin which leads to this pale colour.

METHOD:  Champagne is made using the Traditional Method (Méthode Traditionelle) also called Méthode Champenoise. This method produces lots of fine bubbles and is my personal favourite. A mixture of yeast and sugar is added to still wine directly in the bottle which leads to a second fermentation. This causes the release of carbon dioxide bubbles. Other sparkling wines use this method including Franciacorta, Cava, and Crémant. 

RESIDUAL SUGAR:

Champagne varies in sweetness. The sweetness in Champagne is due to a process called ‘dosage’ where a small amount of a mixture of sugar and wine called ‘liqueur d’expédition‘ is added back into the wine before corking. The amount of sugar will vary depending on the bottle.

  • Brut Nature Less than 3 grams of sugar per litre. No sugar added (no dosage).
  • Extra brut 0-6 grams of sugar per litre. Very dry.
  • Brut Less than 12 grams of sugar per litre.
  • Extra-dry Between 12-17 grams of sugar per litre.
  • Sec Between 17-32 grams of sugar per litre.
  • Demi-Sec Between 32-50 grams of sugar per litre. Moderately sweet.
  • Doux  50 grams or more of sugar per litre. Sweet.

STYLES:

Blanc de Blancs:  Translates to White of Whites. Made from Chardonnay. Lesser amounts of other permitted white grape varieties can also be present.

Blanc de Noirs: Translates to White of Blacks. Made from either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a combination of both.

Rosé:  Made by adding red wine to white wine, or by fermenting the juice while in contact with the skin of the red grape varieties.

Grand Cru / Premier Cru: Champagne made from the region’s highest-rated vineyards.

Non Millésimé: Champagne that contains wine from multiple years.

Vintage: Made from wine from the same year.

Cuvée: Made from a blend of Champagne grapes.

A couple of interesting facts….

  • As opposed to mechanical harvesting, grapes in Champagne are handpicked so that the skin of the grape does not break prior to pressing.
  • Champagne that is Non Millésimé must spend a minimum of 15 months aging on its lees, which are the dead yeast cells and remaining grape particles left after the second fermentation. For the other types of Champagne, it is a minimum of three years on its lees. This contributes to the fresh buttery croissant and warm bread aromas associated with Champagne.

A FEW CUVÉES DE PRESTIGE :

  • Moët et Chandon, Dom Pérignon
  • Pol Roger, Sir Winston Churchill
  • Bollinger, La Grande Année
  • Louis Roederer, Cristal
  • Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle
  • Billecart-Salmon, Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart
  • Krug, Grande Cuvée
  • G.H. Mumm, Cordon Rouge
  • Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne

Wine-Food Pairing for the holidays: A nice brut Champagne will pair well with turkey dinner. If you are having a fancy get-together to ring in the new year, caviar and fois gras will pair well. Champagne will also pair nicely with rich seafood such as lobster, scallops, and crab.

If you are having a get-together where you plan to have finger food, try pairing Champagne with fried appetizers, salty chips, or even buttery popcorn. If you make a cheese platter, make sure it includes creamy cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. Champagne is very versatile and food-friendly.

REVIEW

Champagne Drappier Côte d’Or Brut

Since Champagne can be so pricey, this is a relatively affordable bottle. It is a pale straw coloured Champagne with aromas of baked apple, pear, buttery croissant, hazelnut, floral notes, and a touch of spice. It is full-bodied on the palate, dry, and zesty with its yummy citrus flavours. 

Link to this wine at the LCBO

Link to this wine at the SAQ

Educational resources for this blog:

  • Page 72, 73, 74 of L’Atlas Mondial du Vin, 7e édition, written by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson.  2014. Published by Broquet.
  • I also want to give a special shout out to my former Vins de France professor at La Cité, Gilles Proulx. The education I gained through him has been so valuable with my every day knowledge of French wine including Champagne and this blog.

Chateau Grange Cochard Morgon Vielles Vignes 2014

REVIEW

I am surprised that this wine has 13% alcohol as it doesn’t feel like it has that much, and it certainly doesn’t taste like it. This light bodied Red made from Gamay is juicy on the palate, fresh, and the tannins are silky smooth.

On the nose, we have aromas of violet, dark cherry, and plum with hints of black pepper, sweet spice, and milk chocolate. The juicy fruit aromas follow through on the palate as well as a touch of cloves and cinnamon.

Tasted October 2018

Score: 88

Wine-Food Pairing: Good on its own. I paired mine with tuna steak grilled on a charcoal barbecue. It was delicious! This would also pair well with roasted pork.

Bouvet Excellence Brut Crémant de Loire

REVIEW

This straw coloured crémant has delicate aromas of baked apple, crème brûlée, freshly baked bread, citrus, and almond.

It is medium bodied and creamy on the palate, with flavours of lemon, baked pie crust, and almond at the finish.

Tasted October 2018

Wine-Food Pairing: Great on its own, with pan-seared fish, or fried seafood or vegetable appetizers.

Score: 89

Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut

REVIEW

Straw coloured with delicate bubbles. Aromas of baked pear, apple pie, biscuit, and spearmint. Flavours of baked apple, biscuit, citrus, and mint with a bitter and lingering nutty finish. Medium bodied and very creamy on the palate.

Tasted October 2018

Wine-Food Pairing: Enjoyable on its own, with fried chicken, or with other salty fried food.

Score: 89