By Mike Watkins | 27 Oct 2022
What grape is champagne made from?
Champagne is made from a blend of three possible grape varieties. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are black grapes, while Chardonnay is a white grape. Pinot Noir gives the wine richness and finesse, and Pinot Meunier produces a fruity wine with a hint of spice. Chardonnay is delicate and fresh, with great aromatic potential. All grapes are harvested by hand normally in September. The higher the quality of the grapes, the more potential there is for making a high-quality product.
So, what are the steps involved in making Champagne?
Once harvested, the grapes are quickly and gently pressed. The juice is chilled and filtered to remove any unwanted solids, then put into large steel vats for the first fermentation. In the Spring, the still wines are tasted, and a selection is made from these and reserve wines (from previous years) to create a blend for the non-vintage champagnes, which is called the base wine. Vintage champagnes are made only from the fruit of one year. Once blended, some sugar and yeast is added, and the wine is then put into champagne bottles.
This is where the true magic starts to happen. Master vintners will taste and select the perfect blend of wines to create a range of champagnes to best present the year’s harvest. Wine from the current harvest may be blended with reserve wines to produce a non-vintage (NV) champagne. If the decision is made to create a vintage wine, these will be blended to ensure the champagne will age exceptionally well.
The bottles are stored on their sides in cellars at a constant temperature of about 11 degrees centigrade. This slow, natural yeast-driven chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide that gives the wine its bubbling effervescence.
Ageing on the Lees
The magic of the champagne method lies in the slow ageing period. As part of the second fermentation process, spent yeast cells, called lees, are produced. The wine will age on the lees for some time before they are removed from the bottle. Time spent on the lees adds complexity to the wine and is what gives traditionally made sparkling wine its characteristic bread dough aromas and flavours. The best sparkling wines and non-vintage champagnes will age for a minimum of 15 months and a minimum of 3 years for vintage champagnes.
In order to produce a clear wine, the remains of the dead yeast cells need to be removed. This process can be either done by hand, where the bottles are stored at 75 degrees and rotated every day, whilst the angle of the bottles is increased until they are finally upside-down with the lees settled in the neck of the bottle. Alternatively, there are automated machines called gyro pallets, which are used to shake the sediment to the neck of the bottle.
The neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap removed, and the gas pressure forces out the iced sediment. The bottle is then topped up with a solution of the same wine and an amount of sugar. The bottle is sealed with a cork, which is inserted and secured with a wire muzzle. The champagne is then taken back to the cellars to rest before shipment. Some Champagne Houses such as Lanson now show the date of disgorgement on each bottle.
Finally, the bottles are washed, labelled, dressed with foil and boxed for shipment.
What are the types of Champagne?
There are several types of champagne, the most common being Brut, Extra Dry, and Dry. Brut is the driest, with very little sweetness. Extra dry is slightly sweeter than Brut, and Dry is the sweetest. There are also Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs champagnes, which are made entirely from white or black grapes, respectively.
How is Rosé Champagne Made?
Rosé Champagne is made by blending red and white wines together.
The ratio of red to white wine used will determine the final colour of the champagne. To produce a wine with a darker hue, the champagne producers would use a higher proportion of red wine. Conversely, using more white wine would result in a lighter coloured wine.
Once the desired colour is achieved, the wines are then blended together and bottled with yeast and sugar, which causes a second fermentation.
What is the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne?
Sparkling wine and Champagne are both types of bubbly wine, but there are some key differences between the two.
For starters, Champagne is only made in the Champagne region of France, while sparkling wine can be made anywhere in the world.
Additionally, Champagne is made using a specific type of grape and a traditional method that includes a second fermentation in the bottle.
Sparkling wine can be made from any type of grape and doesn't always undergo a second fermentation.
Finally, Champagne is usually more expensive than sparkling wine due to its limited production and high demand.
What's so special about the Champagne region?
The Champagne region is a special place for many reasons.
First, it is the birthplace of champagne.
Second, the climate and soil in Champagne are ideal for growing the grapes that are used to make champagne.
Third, the region has a long history of producing high-quality champagne.
Finally, Champagne is one of the most famous and prestigious wine regions in the world.
The respect for the use of the word Champagne has caused international legal battles. This is because sparkling wines produced in other parts of the world can't use the name, despite their similarities to champagne. For example, sparkling wines from the Catalonia region of Spain are known as Cava and sparkling wines from Italy are known as Prosecco.
The region in which champagne is traditionally produced encompasses the area around Rheims and Epernay. In the early years of champagne production, grapes were only planted in an area covering 84,000 acres around those cities. Today, however, cities as far north as Burgundy have been authorized to plant the fine grapes that make the famous French wine and call it champagne.