Not all sparkling wines are Champagne. Only those with beautiful bubbles, tiny and persistent, made from Champagne region northeast of Paris in the Champagne method and fermented in the bottle, are qualified to be titled “Champagne.”
The Champagne region is dominated by chalky soils, absorbing heat during the daytime and gradually releasing it at night, which creates good drainage for wine.
The local climate, with an average annual temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, ensures the grape will ripen fully, which gives its wine high acidity.
Making Champagne is an art of blending, not just blending different grape varieties but also different vintages. Although the wine is light and white, it is made mainly from black grapes including Pinot Noir, providing body, and Pinot Meunier, giving vibrancy, along with some white Chardonnay to add backbone.
Each vintage of the Champagne region can vary greatly so that Champagne houses, represented by big names like Moet & Chandon, Bollinger and Perrier Jouet, blend different vintage wines to maintain its wine style.
Vintage Champagne, a proper version known for its sophistication and good aging potential, is an exception. When a great vintage comes, Champagne houses make wine exclusively from grapes grown in that year and release it years later.
It’s the Champagne method, with a second fermentation in the bottle that produces carbon dioxide, that finally produces lovely bubbles in the glass. The distinctive fermentation also helps transform the wine, originally light and thin, into creamy, deep and sophisticated.
The price of Champagne varies, from around 300 yuan (US$49.30) to a whopping price. Both grape-pressing and the time a bottle spends lying in the cellars of the Champagne region widen the difference.
White wine can be made from black grapes because the grapes are pressed extraordinarily gently. The Champagne region strictly regulates how much juice can be squeezed from how many grapes. Some cheap sparkling wine is made from grapes pressed much harder.
The time a bottle spends in the cellar also matters. The longer a bottle lies in a cellar, the richer and fuller the Champagne tastes.
For those hoping to choose an appropriate bottle from hundreds of different labels in a wine shop, here are some notes that will help in reading the bottle quickly:
• Prestige or luxury cuvee: Usually a noble version of Champagne, mostly vintage dated.
• Blanc de Blancs: The Champagne is made from white Chardonnay grapes exclusively.
• Blanc de Noirs: The Champagne is made from black grapes exclusively.
• Rose: Blending still white and red wine together before the fermentation. The wine tastes fruiter and sweeter under most circumstances.
• Demi-sec: Comparatively sweeter than normal Champagne.