Champagne has a long history dating back hundreds of years, and today maintains its position as the Rolls Royce of wines. Champagne is very much the drink of choice for special celebrations such as 21st birthdays, engagement parties, weddings, and anniversaries.
At one time in Australia, a lot of white sparkling wines were loosely referred to as Champagne, which is really incorrect. These days, a wine can only be called Champagne if it was produced from grapes grown in France’s Champagne region, using the champagne method or ‘méthode champenoise’.
The grapes used in Champagne
Champagne is produced from black Pinot Noir, black Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay grapes, which have been grown in the Champagne region according to strict appellation rules. Champagne wines may be produced from Chardonnay alone (Blanc de Blancs), from black grapes (Blanc de Noirs), or from a blend of these varieties.
How Champagne is produced
As mentioned, Champagne must be produced using the French method known as méthode champenoise. This involves a primary fermentation and bottling, followed by a secondary fermentation which is done by adding sugar and yeast to the bottled wine. It is this secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles that Champagne is so famous for. A minimum of 1.5 years is required for the flavour development of a Champagne.
While black grapes are sometimes used, grape skin contact during fermentation is minimal which results in a white wine, sometimes with a tinge of yellow. Slightly longer skin contact is used for pink champagnes.
Level of sweetness
The sweetness of a Champagne will depend on how much sugar was added during secondary fermentation, and the ratio of residual sugar per litre in the finished wine. Examples include:
- Brut Zero / Ultra Brut – very dry with minimal or no sugar.
- Brut – very dry with up to 1.5% sugar.
- Extra dry – 1.5% to 2% sugar.
- Dry/Sec – 2% to 4% sugar.
- Demi Sec – 4% to 8% sugar.
- Doux – sweetest style with as much as 10% sugar.
There are classes available for those who would like to learn more about Champagne, such as this Sommeliers Australia Champagne Masterclass event.
Other sparkling wine varieties
Some other sparkling varieties, such as Italian sparkling wines, may also use secondary fermentation during production. However in cases where the wine is not produced from the Champagne region, the method is referred to as ‘méthode traditionelle’.
Feel free to browse our range of Champagnes and Italian sparkling wines from the Veno online store.