What makes champagne so unique
Don’t miss the chance to visit Champagne region in France, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we produce the world famous Champagne. You can enjoy and walk around in the beautiful vineyards, visit the different Champagne wineries with their impressive underground chalk cellars, wander around the small French villages such as Hautvillers which is the ‘birth place’ of Champagne, taste the regional food and of course cheer your holiday with some Champagne!
The term ‘Champagne’ is reserved exclusively for sparkling wines that come from Champagne region in France. The five Champagne producing districts are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Bar (Aube). The towns of Reims and Epernay are the commercial centers of the Champagne region.
Much more than just a sparkling wine, Champagne is now synonymous throughout the globe with the notions of quality, luxury, and celebration. At its best, Champagne can be the most extraordinary drink: dry, yet with some honeyed sweetness; rich, yet fresh; delicate, yet full-bodied, easy to drink, yet offering layers of complex flavors ranging from floral to fruits to nuts.
What makes Champagne so unique? The answer lies largely in their ‘terroir’. Terroir is a combination of natural elements and human controlled elements unique in that area such as geography, climate, soil type, the choice of grape varieties, topography, sun exposition, winegrowing and winemaking. In fact, without human intervention, a ‘terroir’ is just a soil with its given climate; hence human contributes the specificity of a terroir.
Champagne region is situated 160km (100 miles) east of Paris and it’s the most northern wine region in France. The cool temperatures create a difficult environment for grapes to fully ripen. The grapes ripe very slowly and it permits to develop the aromas constantly. These temperatures also serve to produce high levels of acidity in the resulting grape which is ideal for sparkling wine.
Chalk is the main distinguishing component of Champagne region. The chalky soil preserves heat and provides good drainage which helps the grapes to ripe easily. This soil contributes to the lightness and finesse of the Champagne wine. Some of the spectacular Champagne cellars in Reims are the chalk-pits (crayères). Other Champagne cellars have been carved out of the chalk beneath the city for example in Epernay. The chalk actually helps to keep the cellars at a constant cool temperature and humidity level that are important for the bottle maturation process.
The style of the Champagne is determined by the grape variety that it is made from. The major grape varieties used are the two red wine grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white wine grape Chardonnay. Most Champagne, including rosé, is a blend of these three grape varieties. But there are also pure Chardonnays (blanc de blancs) and white Champagne from pure red wine grapes (blanc de noirs).
The best vineyards are situated on the slopes between 80m to 210m of altitude for example la Montagne de Reims and la Côte des Blancs. In fact, these slopes provide a better sun exposure, which helps the grapes to ripe with a more concentrate juice.
Champagne was once one of the most prosperous wine regions in France. The wines of the Champagne region were long the favorites of French Kings. At that time, the Champagne wine was a red still wine (non sparkling).
According to one of the history sources, during this period, the cooling temperature in Europe disrupted the winemaking industry. It was the beginning of the Little Ice Age. In fact, at the end of 15th century, the temperature fell brutally at the north hemisphere. The cool temperature stopped the fermentation and when spring came, it started again inside the bottles. This second fermentation produced carbonic gas, which was trapped inside the bottles and created a light fizz. Thus, Champagne was born.
This fizz was considered a sign of bad wine making. Champagne had a very difficult period for almost two centuries until the Catholic Church was interested in getting involved in the Champagne vineyards and wanted to solve the problem. In 1668, the Hautvillers Abbey entrusted a 29 years old monk, Dom Pierre Perignon to ‘restore’ the Champagne wine to its former glory. At first he developed different methods to reduce the fizz of the wine and the taste started to evolve. At the end of the 17th century, sparkling wine was appreciated by high society, which contributed to the development of Champagne. Instead of getting rid of the fizz, Dom Perignon applied all his efforts to increase the fizz of the wine!
Dom Perignon’s greatest contribution to wine making was in fact the care he took in developing the art of blending wines from various parts of the region, wine issue from different grape varieties and different years. His art of blending remains the most important component of the Champagne making process to this day.