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What is Champagne? All Your Questions Answered

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Champagne is a type of sparkling wine which is produced in a specific region in the northeast of France, called the Champagne wine region. A wine can only be labelled as Champagne if its production meets specific vineyard practices, detailed below, and the grapes that make the wine are sourced from designated places in the Champagne wine region.

 

That’s the short answer. But there are many more interesting facts to learn about Champagne wine, including how it’s made, the grape varieties used, and how other sparkling wines made in the traditional method can be very similar.

 

At Bolney Wine Estate, we have been making traditional-method sparkling wine for half a century, so it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about it. This guide will take you through the basics of Champagne and its near-identical alternatives.

What Type of Wine is Champagne?

Champagne is a sparkling wine, which means that it contains noticeable levels of carbon dioxide that cause the wine to be fizzy and to give that distinctive “pop” when it’s opened. The sparkling element can be seen in the characteristic bubbles of the wine, which is why Champagne and other sparkling wines are often called bottles of “bubbly”.

How Is Champagne Made?

 

There is a specific method for making Champagne wine, which is referred to in France as Méthode Traditionnelle (formerly known as Méthode Champenoise before a 1994 law change by the EU). This traditional method is the same method used outside of the Champagne region for sparkling wines, too.

Fermentation

The most important distinguishing factor of the traditional method is the secondary fermentation. The wine is fermented once in a barrel, is bottled, and then undergoes another fermentation inside the bottle. This is achieved by the addition of yeast, nutrients for the yeast, and rock sugar. Each brand has its own specific recipe, which is always kept under wraps.

Lees Ageing

The dead yeast cells will form deposits called “lees,” which help the development of flavours and aromas. Champagne will be aged on these lees for a minimum of 1.5 years if made from a blend of grape harvests or a minimum of 3 years if made from one year’s harvest.

Riddling

After this, the Champagne will undergo a process called remuage, or “riddling” in English. Riddling is when the bottles are gradually oriented bit by bit so that the lees move to the neck of the bottle.

Disgorgement

The inverted bottles will be cooled so that the lees freeze into a small block. Then, the bottles are put back upright and opened, with the pressure created from this pushing the lees out. There will be a small missing volume of liquid which is replaced before the bottle is finally corked. The name for this process is disgorging.


 

What Grape Is Used For Champagne?

So what is Champagne made of? Like all wine, it is made from grapes. But, these must be a specific variety from one of the specific wine-producing districts of the Champagne wine region.

 

The most common grape variety used for Champagne is the white Chardonnay. Darker-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier can also be used. These are generally considered “red wine grapes” but actually produce a white base in Champagne production because of the absence of skin contact in fermentation.

Champagne Types

The majority of Champagne manufactured currently is a blended variety of grapes from different harvest years. These harvest years are referred to as a “vintage”. So, a Champagne made of grapes from multiple vintages is called “Non-vintage”.

 

If one year has a particularly bountiful harvest, the wine may just be made of 100% of this vintage, thus creating “vintage Champagne”. Vintage Champagne does not mean it’s very old!

 

Champagne will always be a sparkling white wine, but there are different variations:

Blanc de Blancs

Blanc de blancs means “white from whites”. This refers to wine that is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de noirs means “white from blacks” and refers to Champagnes made only of the Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties, or a mix of the two.

Rosé Champagne

A Rosé Champagne will be blush in colour and fruity in aroma. It’s most commonly produced by bending a little still red wine into the Champagne to achieve the pink colour and distinctive flavour.

Prestige Cuvée

Also called cuvée de prestige, this is considered to be the finest wine from a producer’s range because it’s from the most desired first-pressed grape juice. Learn more about cuvée wine.

Champagne Sweetness

Champagne can be dry or sweet, depending on the grape variety and how much sugar is added. Very dry wines will be labelled as “Brut”.

 

This is the general scale of Champagne sweetness, from driest to sweetest:

 

  • Extra Brut: The driest style, with little-to-no sugar content.
  • Brut: Dry with a hint of sweetness. Champagne is most commonly found in the Brut style.
  • Extra Dry: Sweeter but still retain some dryness.
  • Demi-Sec: A very sweet wine style, great for dessert pairings.

Why Is Champagne So Revered?

Champagne is considered a prestige type of wine for a number of reasons. One is its exclusivity. A bottle can only be labelled as Champagne if made in this region of France, and this is heavily regulated.

 

The traditional method used for Champagne production also takes time and skill, producing fine wines that are of superior quality to standard sparkling wines.

 

The other reason is its long history. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Champagne became associated with royalty through marketing efforts from leading manufacturers. This has carried through to today with Champagne being reserved for splashing out on celebrations.

What Colour Is Champagne?

Champagne is also a colour as well as a wine. It’s a kind of beige with warmer undertones. As the wine Champagne is both highly regarded and often used for celebrations or special occasions, the colour Champagne thus has associations of sophistication and celebration.

Are There Good Champagne Equivalents?

Any white sparkling wine produced in the traditional method is a worthy equivalent to Champagne and can be near-identical if made using the same grape varieties. At Bolney Wine Estate, for example, we have been making traditional sparkling wines that have been recognised with a string of prestigious industry awards.

 

Our Blanc de Blancs is a stylish single vintage with citrus and brioche hazelnut aromas that make for a sophisticated and delicious sparkling wine. Or, our Bolney Bubbly is a crowd-pleasing favourite with a well-balanced sweetness.

 

If you’re after a quality bottle of sparkling wine for a special occasion that won’t let you down, view our full sparkling wine range to find the perfect one for you. You can even opt for our  subscribe and save offer, which gives you a hassle-free subscription that delivers wine straight to your door.

See our range of sparkling wine