Champagne is a sparkling wineproduced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation. It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France, from which it takes its name. Through international treaty, national law, most countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the Champagne appellation. In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Other countries, such as the United States, have recognized the exclusive nature of this name, yet maintain a legal structure that allows longtime domestic producers of sparkling wine to continue to use the term "Champagne" under specific circumstances.
Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power. The leading manufacturers devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine, associating it and themselves with nobility and royalty. Through advertising and packaging they sought to associate champagne with high luxury, festivities and rites of passage. Their efforts coincided with an emerging middle class that was looking for ways to spend its money on symbols of upward mobility.
Jean Francois de Troy's 1735 painting Le Déjeuner d'Huîtres (Luncheon with Oysters) is the first known depiction of champagne in painting.
The Romanswere the first to plant vineyards in this area of northeast France with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. Churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French Kings were traditionally anointed in Reims and champagne wine was served as part of coronation festivities. The Champenois were envious of the reputation of the wines made by their Burgundian neighbors to the south and sought to produce wines of equal acclaim. However the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels. The wines would be lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundy wines they were seeking to outdo.
The English scientist and physician Christopher Merretdocumented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented champagne. Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. Merrett presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called methode champenoise in 1662.
Although the French monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715) did not invent champagne, it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar to withstand the fermentation pressure. In France, the first sparkling champagne was created accidentally; its pressure led it to be called "the devil's wine" (le vin du diable) as bottles exploded or the cork jolted away. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the only fermentation had finished. Champagne did not utilize the methode champenoiseuntil the 19th century, 300 years after Christopher Merret documented the process. The nineteenth century saw an explosive growth in champagne production going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.
In the 1800s champagne was noticeably sweeter than the champagne of today. The trend towards drier champagne began when Perrier-Jouetdecided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut champagne, the modern champagne, was created for the British in 1876.
Champagne and the law
The Champagne winemaking community, under the auspices of the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, 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 (most champagne is a blend of up to three grape varieties, though other varieties are allowed); 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. The rules agreed upon by the CIVC are submitted for the INAO's final approval.
The government organization that controls wine appellations in France, the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, is preparing to make the largest revision of the region's legal boundaries since 1927, in response to economic pressures. With soaring demand and limited production of grapes, champagne houses say the rising price could produce a consumer backlash that would harm the industry for years into the future. That, along with political pressure from villages that want to be included in the expanded boundaries, led to the move.
Use of the word "Champagne"
1915 English magazine illustration of a lady riding a champagne cork. From The Lordprice Collection.
Regardless of the legal requirements for labeling, extensive education efforts by the Champagne region and the use of alternative names by non-Champagne quality sparkling wine producers, some consumers continue to regard champagne as a generic term for white sparkling wines, regardless of origin. The laws described here were intended to reserve the term as a designation of origin. In the European Union and many other countries, the name Champagne is legally protectedby the Treaty of Madrid (1891) designating only the sparkling wine produced in the eponymous region and adhering to the standards defined for it as an Appellation d'origine contrlee; the right was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. This legal protection has been accepted by numerous other countries worldwide. Most recently Canada, Australia and Chile signed agreements with Europe that will limit the use of the term champagne to only those products produced in the Champagne region. The United States allows use of the semi-generic term champagne on the label of their sparkling wines but requires the wine's actual origin to be listed on the label
Even the term méthode champenoise or champagne method was forbidden consequent to an EU court decision in 1994. As of 2005, the description most often legally used for sparkling wines not from Champagne yet using the second fermentation in the bottle process is méthode traditionnelle. Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, and many producers use special terms to define them: Spain uses Cava, Italy designates it spumante, and South Africa uses Cap Classique. An Italian sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape uses the DOCG Asti. In Germany, Sekt is a common sparkling wine. Other French wine regions cannot use the name champagne, i.e. Burgundy and Alsace produce Cremant. Sparkling wines mislabelled champagne can be and often are seized and destroyed by legal authorities.
The village of Champagne, Switzerlandhas traditionally made a still wine labelled as "champagne", the earliest records of viticulture dated to 1657. In an accord with the EU, the Swiss government conceded in 1999 that by 2004 the village would phase out use of the name. Sales dropped from 110,000 bottles a year to 32,000 after the change. In April 2008 the villagers resolved to the fight against the restriction following a Swiss open-air vote.
Le Remueur: 1889 engraving of the man engaged in the laborious daily task of turning each bottle a fraction
Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which champagne is produced. After primary fermentationand bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although each brand has its own secret recipe) and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d'Origine Controlee a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared. This means that the champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.
After ageing, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage (riddling, in English), so that the leessettle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup is added to maintain the level within the bottle.
An initial burst of effervescence occurs when the champagne contacts the dry glass on pouring. These bubbles may form on imperfections in the glassthat facilitate nucleation or on cellulose fibres left over from the wiping/drying process as shown by Gérard Liger-Belair, Richard Marchal, and Philippe Jeandel with a high-speed video camera. However, after the initial rush, these naturally occurring imperfections are typically too small to consistently act as nucleation points as the surface tension of the liquid smooths out these minute irregularities. The nucleation sites that act as a source for the ongoing effervescence are not natural imperfections in the glass, but actually occur where the glass has been etched by the manufacturer or the customer. This etching is typically done with acid, a laser, or a glass etching tool from a craft shop to provide nucleation sites for continuous bubble formation (note that not all glasses are etched in this way) Dom Perignon was originally charged by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 1700s, cellar workers would have to wear heavy iron mask that resembled a baseball catcher's mask to prevent injury from spontaneously bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle's disintegration could cause a chain reaction, with it being routine for cellars to lose 20-90% of their bottles to instability. The mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations "The Devil's Wine".
There are more than one hundred 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
CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Co-operatives
RM: Récoltant manipulant. (Also known as Grower Champagne) A grower that also makes wine from its own grapes (a maximum of 5% of purchased grapes is permitted). Note that co-operative members who take their bottles to be disgorged at the co-op can now label themselves as RM instead of RC.
SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative
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
ND: Négociant distributeur. A wine merchant selling under his own name
The popularity of champagne is attributed to the success of champagne producers in marketing the wine. Champagne houses promoted the wine's image as a royal and aristocraticdrink. Laurent-Perrier's advertisements in late 1890 boasted their champagne was the favourite of King Leopold II of Belgium, George I of Greece, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Margaret Cambridge, Machioness of Cambridge, and John Lambton, 3rd Earl of Durham, among other nobles, knights, and military officers. Despite this royal prestige, champagne houses also portrayed champagne as a luxury enjoyable by anyone, for any occasion. This strategy worked, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, the majority of champagne drinkers were middle class.
In the 19th century, champagne producers made a concentrated effort to market their wine to women. This was in stark contrast to the traditionally "male aura" that the wines of France had—particularly Burgundyand Bordeaux. Laurent-Perrier again took the lead in this area with advertisements touting their wine's favour with the Countess of Dudley, the wife of the 9th Earl of Stamford, the wife of the Baron Tollemache, and the opera singer Adelina Patti. Champagne labels were designed with images of romantic love and marriage as well as other special occasions that were deemed important to women, such as the baptism of a child.
In some advertisements, the champagne houses catered to political interest such as the labels that appeared on different brands on bottles commemorating the centennial anniversary of the French Revolutionof 1789. On some labels there were flattering images of Marie-Antoinette that appealed to the conservative factions of French citizens that viewed the former queen as a martyr. On other labels there were stirring images of Revolutionary scenes that appealed to the liberal left sentiments of French citizens. As World War I loomed, champagne houses put images of soldiers and countries' flags on their bottles, customizing the image for each country to which the wine was imported. During the Dreyfus Affair, one Champagne house released a Champagne Antijuif with anti-Semitic advertisements to take advantage of the wave of anti-Semitism that hit parts of France.
Champagne is typically drunk during celebrations. Itis also used to launch ships when a bottle is smashed over the hull during the ship's launch. If the bottle fails to break this is often thought to be bad luck.
Grape varieties and styles
Champagne is a single Appelation d'Origine Controlee. As a general rule, grapes used must be the white Chardonnay, or the dark-skinned "red wine grapes" Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Due to the gentle pressing of the grapes and absence of skin contact during fermentation, the dark-skinned varieties also yield a white wine. Most Champagnes are made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, for example 60%/40%. Blanc de blanc ("white from white") Champagnes are made from 100% Chardonnay. Possibly the most exquisite, and definitely the most expensive of these is grown in a single Grand cru vineyard in Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger for Salon. Blanc de noir ("white from black") Champagne is pressed from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a mix of the two.
There are several other grape varieties permitted for historical reasons, however, but rare in current usage. The sparsely cultivated varieties (0.02% of the total vines planted in Champagne) of Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc, may still be found in modern cuvées. While the directives of INAO make conditional allowances according to the complex laws of 1927 and 1929, and plantings made prior to 1938. The complete list of the nine actual and theoretical varieties reads Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot gris (in Champagne named Fromenteau), Pinot de juillet and Pinot rose. The Gamay vines of the region were scheduled to be uprooted by 1942, but due to World War II, this was postponed until 1962.
The dark-skinned Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier give the wine its length and backbone. They are predominantly grown in two areas - the Montagne de Reims and the Valée de la Marne. The Montagne de Reims run east-west to the south of Reims, in northern Champagne. They are notable for north-facing chalky slopes that derive heat from the warm winds rising from the valleys below. The River Marne runs west-east through Champagne, south of the Montagne de Reims. The Valée de la Marne contains south-facing chalky slopes. Chardonnay gives the wine its acidity and biscuit flavour. Most Chardonnay is grown in a north-south-running strip to the south of Epernay, called the Côte des Blanc, including the villages of Avize, Oger and Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger. These are east-facing vineyards, with terroir similar to the Cote de Beaune. The various terroirs account for the differences in grape characteristics and explain the appropriateness of blending juice from different grape varieties and geographical areas within Champagne, to get the desired style for each Champagne house.
An Edwardian Advert.
Types of Champagne
Most of the Champagne produced today is "Non-vintage", meaning that it is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10-15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are favourable, some producers will make a "Vintage" wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage's harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from favourable vintages to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as "vintage" since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.
Prestige cuvée. A cuvée de prestige is a proprietary blended wine (usually a Champagne) that is considered to be the top of a producer's range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siecle, Moet & Chandon's Dom Perignon, and Pol Roger's Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. The original prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, Champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-range wine produced to the highest standards (and priced accordingly) was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876, but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar. Cristal was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage. Then came Tattinger's Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée' in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955). In the last three decades of the twentieth century, most Champagne houses followed these with their own prestige cuvées, often named after notable people with a link to that producer (Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame, the nickname of the widow of the house's founder's son; Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, named for the British prime minister; and Laurent-Perrier's Cuvée Alexandra rosé, to name just three examples), and presented in non-standard bottle shapes (following Dom Pérignon's lead with its eighteenth-century revival design).
Blanc de noirs. A French term (literally "white of blacks") for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. It is often encountered in Champagne, where a number of houses have followed the lead of Bollinger's prestige cuvée Vieilles Vignes Françaises in introducing a cuvee made from either Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two (these being the only two black grapes permitted within the Champagne AOC appellation). Although Bollinger's wine is famed for its intense richness and full-bodied nature, this has more to do with the way the grapes are planted and when they are harvested than any intrinsic property of blanc de noirs Champagne, which is often little different from cuvées including a proportion of Chardonnay.
Blanc de blancs. A French term that means "white of whites", and is used to designate champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties.
Rosé Champagne. The rose wines of Champagne are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still Pinot noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee. Champagne is typically light in colour even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé champagne is one of the few wines that allows the production of Rosé by the addition a small amount of red wine during blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible colour, allowing a constant Rosé colour from year-to-year.
The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation and aging varies and will dictate the sweetness level of the Champagne.
Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per litre)
Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per litre)
Brut (less than 15 grams of sugar per litre)
Extra Sec or Extra Dry (12 to 20 grams of sugar per litre)
Sec (17 to 35 grams of sugar per litre)
Demi-Sec (33 to 50 grams of sugar per litre)
Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per litre)
The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century champagne was generally much sweeter than it is today.
Side-by-side comparison of champagne bottles (L to R) On ladder magnum (1.5 litres), full (0.75 litre), half (0.375 litre), quarter (0.1875 litre). On floor: Balthazar (12 litres), Salmanazar (9 litres), Methuselah (6 litres), Jeroboam (3 litres).
Champagne is mostly fermented in two sizes of bottles, standard bottles (750 mL), and magnums (1.5 L). In general, magnums are thought to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area 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. Sizes larger than Jeroboam (3.0 L) are rare. Primat sized bottles (27 L) - and as of 2002 Melchizedek sized bottles (30 L) - are exclusively offered by the House Drappier. The same names are used for bottles containing wine and port; however Jeroboam, Rehoboam and Methuselah refer to different bottle volumes. Unique sizes have been made for special occasions and people, the most notable example perhaps being the 20 fluid ounce / 60 cL. bottle (Imperial pint) made specially for Sir Winston Churchill by Pol Roger.
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 which is a conglomerate of ground cork and glue. Prior to insertion, a sparkling wine cork is almost 50% larger than the opening of the bottle. Originally they start as a cylinder and are compressed prior to insertion into the bottle. Over time their compressed shape becomes more permanent and the distinctive "mushroom" shape becomes more apparent. The aging of the champagne post disgorgement can to some degree be told by the cork, as the longer it has been in the bottle the less it returns to its original cylinder shape.
Champagne is usually served in a champagne flute, whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom. Riedel makes such glasses for vintage and non-vintage champagnes. Other manufacturers have copied Riedel's design and make similar, more affordable flutes. The Victorian coupe (according to legend, approximating the breast of Marie Antoinette) is not recommended as it disperses the nose and over-oxygenates the wine. Champagne is always served cold, its ideal drinking temperature at 7 to 9 °C (43 to 48 °F). Often the bottle is chilled in a bucket of ice and water before opening. Champagne buckets are made specifically for this purpose, and often have a larger volume than standard wine-cooling buckets (to accommodate the larger bottle, and more water and ice).
Opening Champagne bottles
Champagne has been an integral part of sports celebration since Moet et Chandonstarted offering their champagne to the winners of Formula I Grand Prix events. At the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, winner Dan Gurney started the tradition of spraying the crowd and each other. However, this opening will waste much of the champagne. To reduce the risk of spilling champagne and/or turning the cork into a dangerous projectile, a champagne bottle can be opened by holding the cork and rotating the bottle (rather than the cork). By using a 45 degree angle, the surface of the champagne has the maximum surface area, thus minimizing the excessive bubbling. The cork can ease out with a sigh or a whisper rather than a pop. The flavour will be largely the same, irrespective of the method used, but the volume left in the bottle will differ. The whispering noise made while opening the bottle is sometimes named "le soupir amoureux" (loving whisper).
In April 18, 2007, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published the results of a recent joint study by the University of Reading and University of Cagliari that showed moderate consumptions of champagne may help the brain cope with the trauma of stroke, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease. The research noted that the high amount of the antioxidant polyphenols in sparkling wine can help prevent deterioration of brain cells due to oxidative stress. During the study scientist exposed two groups of mice with blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay composition) and blanc de noir (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier based) and a control group with no exposure to champagne. All groups were then subjected to high levels of neurotoxicity similar to what the human brain experiences during inflammatory conditions. The study found that the groups pretreated with exposure to Champagne had a higher level of cell restoration compared to the group that wasn't. The study's co-authors noted that it was too early to conclusively say that drinking champagne is beneficial to brain health but that the study does point researchers to more exploration in this area. It is a common perception that people become intoxicated more quickly on champagne. It has been shown that alcohol is more rapidly absorbed when mixed with carbonated water, and this may explain this anecdotal assertion.
ALL IN ALL a great way to celebrate.