It’s hard not to love champagne. With its warm, rich flavour and bubbles that tickle your senses, champagne is the perfect accompaniment for any celebration. But how is it made? Read on for a step-by-step account of how your favourite champagne makes the journey from grapevine to glass.
Champagne starts off the way wines do: with grapes. Most champagnes are made from a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, and pinot meunier grapes. In the beginning, the process for creating champagne is similar to that of
wines. However, champagne grapes tend to be harvested earlier, when the grapes have a lower sugar content and a higher acid level. Champagne grapes are pressed and fermented to convert the grapes’ natural sugars into alcohol, letting any carbon dioxide produced in the process to escape. This creates what is called a “base wine.” Once this has been done, the base wines are sometimes blended with other wines to combine grape varieties and different vintages. Most champagnes are in fact mixes of different grapes, which tends to produce a smoother flavour. This finishes off
the first fermentation process.
Then the wine is bottled with yeast and a bit of sugar for the second fermentation. During this process, the bottles are stored horizontally. When the yeast consumes the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide, which in this step is not allowed to escape. This carbonates the wine, making it officially champagne. The champagne is usually aged between one and a half to three years.
After the ageing process has been completed, champagne is subjected to a process called “riddling,” in which the bottles are rotated slightly each day and gradually moved so that the necks are pointing down. This allows dead yeast and other sediments to collect in the mouth of the bottle, where it can be removed. The process of removing the sediment is called “disgorging,” and it takes a great deal of skill to do manually without losing more than a minimal
amount of champagne. Nowadays, most champagne manufacturers don’t disgorge their bottles by hand; an automated process freezes the liquid in the neck along with the sediment-called “lees” in champagne circles. The plug of ice is
removed, and a small dose of sugar or sweet wine is added to the bottle. The champagne is then corked and sold for public consumption.
True champagne-that is, the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France-is required to age for at least 15 months “on the lees,” or while allowing the sediment to collect in the bottle, before being made available for consumption. However, many of the higher-quality champagne makers age the beverage for six to eight years before selling it. It’s believed that the lees impart a rich and distinctive flavour to the beverage.
There are four major styles of champagne: doux, a sweet dessert-style champagne; sec, a little drier and good for general consumption at parties and brunches; extra-dry, a little drier than sec; and brut, the driest of them all – a savoury champagne that pairs well with meals.
Champagne gets its name from the region in France of the same name. During the middle ages, wine was in high demand in churches because it was part of the Eucharist ceremony. For centuries, Champagne’s wines were widely preferred
throughout England, but they were not like champagne, as we know it today. Before 1700, champagne was a still wine, appreciated for its light and crisp taste. The first sparkling wines were produced in the 16th century in France’s Limoux region, and when the sparkling technique was applied to Champagne’s wines around the year 1700, champagne as we know it was born.
In Europe, no company that produces sparkling wine outside of the Champagne region may refer to its wines as “champagne.” However, in America, the word “champagne” may be used as a semi-generic term by other winemakers. American winemakers who use the term must specify the place of origin on the label, under the word “champagne.”
Nowadays, we associate champagne with celebration, luxury, and the finest things in life. It truly is a wonderful way to celebrate, and is appreciated for its fine, intoxicating flavours all over the world.