Where is the Champagne region in France, when is the grape harvest and how are the bubbles made?December 12, 2018
Here we explore its origins, science and what sets it apart from other fizzy wines.
Where is champagne produced?
The Champagne wine region is within the historical province of the same name in the northeast of France, located about 100 miles east of Paris.
The region is split into separate wine producing districts, Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne.
The towns of Reims and Épernay are the commercial centres of the area.
Champagne houses began to spring up in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the method used to make the pricey plonk believed to have been invented by a monk called Dom Perignon and refined by the widow (veuve) Cliquot.
Both of these champagne houses are still in existence today, and producing the gold standard of fizzy plonk.
What types of grapes are used to make champagne?
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Meunier
When are the grapes harvested?
There is a three week window when the grapes are handpicked at their very best.
"Pickers have roughly a three-week window in which to work – beyond that point the grapes will be past their best. Just to complicate matters, all Champagne grapes reach their peak of ripeness at about the same time.
"Some 120,000 pickers work in teams (‘hordons’ in French) of four per hectare, of which nearly 100,000 are given bed and board by the Winegrowers and Champagne Houses."
How are the bubbles in champagne made?
Vinyards get the bubbles in their champagne using an ancient technique called Méthode Champenoise.
After the wine's first fermentation, yeast and sugar are added to the wine triggering another fermentation.
The bottles are given a simple cap like a beer bottle and then placed upside down on a slant on a special frame called a riddling rack.
They are left for at least 15 months and are turned regularly, which allows all the sediment in the bottles to gather in the neck.
Before the bottle can be corked and sent out to thirsty customers across the world, the necks are quick frozen, which freezes all the sediment, known as 'lees'.
When the cap is removed the clog of sediment flies out like a cork, and another mixture called 'dosage' is poured in.
This concoction of sugar and wine is added to the bottles before they are corked and caged and they are laid down to mature for months or even years.
The extra fermentation produces bubbles which last a long time after opening and pouring.
What is the difference between champagne, prosecco and cava?
Prosecco is made in the Veneto region of Italy using a variety of grape called Glera.
While the secondary fermentation of champagne happens in bottles, with prosecco it takes place in large steel tanks which makes it lighter and less yeasty.
Cava comes from Spain and uses Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello grapes, but Chardonnay or Pinot grapes can also be used.
It is fermented in the bottle like its French counterpart, but as it is produced outside of France, its production method is referred to as méthode traditionnelle.
What are the sizes of Champagne bottles?
One standard 750ml bottle of Champagne will give you 6 serving, but for some events – and people – that's simply not enough.
Here are the other sizes you can buy:
- Magnum (2 bottles)
- Jereboam (4 bottles)
- Rehoboam (6 bottles)
- Methuselah (8 bottles)
- Salmanazar (12 bottles)
- Balthazar (16 bottles)
- Nabuchadnezzar (20 bottles)
How to open bubbly… with a bullet
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