Champagne

Like many other regions in France, Champagne has a long and rich history. In fact, since the fifth century it was already associated with the monarchy and nobility and since the wines became effervescent in the late 1700s, they were an instant success at court and among the wealthy and titled.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Champagne vineyard lay in tatters, devastated by the phylloxera epidemic then the First World War. As winegrowers set to work replanting, there was a growing awareness of the need to protect their collective heritage. In the years that followed, a law was passed marking the boundaries of the Champagne terroir and defining rules and regulations. With the granting of AOC status in 1936, Champagne finally won its centuries-old battle for official recognition.

Like many other regions in France, Champagne has a long and rich history. In fact, since the fifth century it was already associated with the monarchy and nobility and since the wines became effervescent in the late 1700s, they were an instant success at court and among the wealthy and titled.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Champagne vineyard lay in tatters, devastated by the phylloxera epidemic then the First World War. As winegrowers set to work replanting, there was a growing awareness of the need to protect their collective heritage. In the years that followed, a law was passed marking the boundaries of the Champagne terroir and defining rules and regulations. With the granting of AOC status in 1936, Champagne finally won its centuries-old battle for official recognition.

The Champagne region lies at the northern edge of the world's vineyard-growing areas, around the towns of Reims and Épernay, with lower average temperatures than any other French wine region. The principal grapes grown in the region include Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Champagne can have varying styles and forms. The key Champagne styles differ in their colour, sweetness, base grape varieties, and whether they are the product of a single vintage or several (Non-Vintage). The whites may be either Blanc de Noirs (made from Pinot and/or Pinot Meuier), Blanc de Blancs (made from Chardonnay only) or just plain Blanc (made from any combination of the permitted varieties). Pink Champagne Rosé is made either by adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins. These types all come with varying degrees of sweetness – not necessarily the result of residual sugar, but due to the addition of a dosage just before the wine is finally bottled.

Grand Cru Champagnes and Premier Cru Champagnes are those made from the region's very finest and highest-rated vineyards. However, branding is so important in Champagne that the Maison (producer) that brand names take priority over appellation titles and such honorifics as Grand Cru and Premier Cru.

The production process for Champagne is similar to that for other wines, but includes an additional (and vital) stage, during which a second fermentation is started in the bottle by the addition of yeast and sugars. It is this that generates the carbon dioxide bubbles responsible for the pop and sparkle that are the symbols of Champagne.

All Champagne must spend at least 12 months aging on its lees - the spent yeast cells from the second fermentation. An extended period on lees beyond this can have a marked effect on the yeasty characteristics of the final wine. Non-vintage Champagnes must mature in bottle for a minimum of 15 months in total before release (i.e. an extra 3 months after the yeast sediment is removed at disgorgement) though in practice 2 to 3 years is a more typical figure. Vintage wines must spend 36 months in bottle before being sent to market, though most are released after 4 to 10 years.

Champagne

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