When it comes to Sparkling wine, Champagne, or any other type of bubbly beverage there is definitely more to know than one might initially consider.
Special occasions like Valentine’s Day, holidays, and milestones in life beg for a celebration that calls for a special bottle of Sparkling wine. Champagne is a northern region of France that is renowned for its sparkling wines, it’s also the generic term many use for most other Sparkling wines.
True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France, it is also the only wine allowed to be called Champagne. Only true Champagne will have a capital “C” on the label, no other labels are allowed to feature the word “Champagne” by law worldwide.
There are three grape varietals used to produce Champagne; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. These varietals are cool weather loving grapes that exemplify a wonderful sense of place. Sparkling wines and Champagne are still wines that are infused with carbonation and the color of the wine is white, only the juice of the grape is used to produce the wine.
The three styles made from these grapes are Champagne which is blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Blanc de Blancs is made from only the Chardonnay grape, and Blanc de Noir is made from the red grape varietals, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Different vintages of the wine are blended together, this is what is referred to as the “Cuvée”.
Pink Champagne or Sparkling Rosé is produced by adding red wine to the blend or by the saignée method of bleeding wine from the vat after a short period of maceration with the grape skins.
Sparkling wines are made utilizing four different methods of production:
- The first method is Carbon Dioxide Injection. Soft drinks and most inexpensive sparkling wines are made this way resulting in large bubbles that dissipate rapidly.
- The Charmat Process is a method in which the wine undergoes a second fermentation in large bulk tanks. It is then bottled under pressure. This is how Prosecco and Asti Spumanti are made. The bubbles are smaller and longer lasting with this method.
- Méthode Champenoise is the process by which true Champagne is made. This method takes place in the bottle and requires plenty of hands-on attention. The wine is fermented twice, once in an oak barrel, and the second time the wine develops carbonation in the bottle while aging a minimum of one year.
- A Transfer Method is used when the cuvee is bottled for a second fermentation, this adds a layer of complexity. Once the wine has spent the appropriate amount of time on yeast it is moved into large tanks and stored.
Champagne and Sparkling wines are made in different styles that vary from dry to sweet. The label will indicate the following style types:
- Brut is Dry
- Extra Dry is Semidry
- Sec is Semisweet
- Demi-sec is Sweet
The quality of Sparkling wines and Champagne are denoted as follows:
Non-Vintage Sparkling wines are blended wines aged for at least two years, the majority of the wines on retail shelves are non-vintage.
Vintage Champagne and Sparkling wine will have been aged for a minimum of three years and will be produced as a result of an outstanding crop of grapes in any given year. There will be an actual vintage indicated on the label, you can expect to pay a higher premium for vintage bubbly.
Here are a few examples of Vintage Champagnes that you may recognize; Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Moet & Chandon, and Taittinger.
Prestige cuvée or Tête de Cuvée is the finest quality Champagne and is available in very limited quantities. These grapes are harvested from the best vineyards of the highest rated villages. The wine is made from the first pressing of the grapes and is aged longer than vintage and non-vintage sparkling wines. This Champagne will have greater complexity and tends to be pricy.
The following is a list of perennial quality Champagne producers:
Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, J. Bollinger, Canard-Duchene, Deutz, Charles Heidsieck, Heid sieck Monopole, Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Lauret Perrier, Mercier, Moet & Chandon, Mumm Perrier-Jouet, Joseph Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salmon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot.
Check out this flight of Sparkling wines for your Valentine’s Day Sparkling Wine Tasting 02_08_2015 WP
Please see these other interesting blog posts on the many other types of Sparkling wines:
From my table to yours,