A guide to the types of champagne
We’ve all heard the saying, “it’s only champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France”. Did you know that the name ‘Champagne’ is legally reserved for sparkling wine produced in this region? The French take their champagne very seriously, and rightfully so! Everyone loves to clink a glass of bubbly when celebrating a special occasion.
If you want to learn more about the origin, production process, and different types of champagne, this guide is for you!
How champagne is made
To be called ‘champagne’, the wine must be produced in Champagne in the northeast region of France. It is also important to note that while all champagnes are classified as sparkling wine, not all sparkling wines are considered champagne. Sparkling wines such as cava and prosecco may have some features in common with champagne (and are equally as delicious) but since grape varietals from regions outside of France along with different production methods are utilised, they are not categorised as champagne.
Champagne is traditionally made from three grape varieties — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier — and is produced in a variety of styles using the traditional method known as Méthode Champenoise. The Chardonnay grape is mild in flavour and characterised by a crisp, acidic taste; the Pinot Noir grape is more varied in deep, earthy flavours; and the Pinot Meunier grape has a bold, rich flavour to effect. Other grapes such as the Pinot Gris, Pinot Meslier, and Arbane are also occasionally used to produce champagne, although these varieties are quite rare. When you buy a bottle of champagne, the grape used to make it should be indicated on the label. If it is not indicated, it is likely that the winemakers used a blend of two or more of the varieties listed above.
The traditional method of making champagne is a complex process that takes years to master. The grapes go through two distillation procedures, firstly to distil the grapes into still wine, and secondly to create the characteristic champagne bubbles by adding yeast and sugar to the wine. After this step, the sparkling wine ages for a minimum of 15 months while frequently being rotated to ensure the yeast keeps moving. To complete the process, the yeast is skimmed off the top of the liquid and the final ingredients are added before the champagne is ready to be bottled up and shipped off to a restaurant or liquor store near you.
Different types and styles of champagne
Champagne is described in terms of its sweetness, which comes from the unique mixture of the distilled wine and the added sugar content. Sugar is an essential part of making champagne to balance out the high acidity levels of the unsweetened wine. The sweetness of champagne is indicated by the scale of ‘brut’, which ranges from brut nature (extra dry) and dry to semi-sec (sweet) and doux (very sweet). If you prefer dry wine, opt for extra brut or brut nature. Sweeter champagnes are typically served as dessert wines.
Blanc de Blancs, or white of whites, is a style of champagne made purely with white grapes. Blanc de Noirs, or white of blacks, is a style of champagne made purely with black grapes. Blanc champagne typically has light fruity taste notes while champagne made of black grapes are rich in bold berry flavours. A rosé style champagne can also be made by blending white champagne with a small amount of red wine. The red wine used to make pink champagne is different from the red wine you would drink since it is used for the sole objective of adding a particular flavour to the sparkling wine.
Serving and storing champagne
The optimum temperature for storing champagne is slightly below 10°C. Unlike red wine, sparkling wine does not improve with age and should therefore not gather dust in your wine shelf for too long. Once the bottle is open, preserve the bubbles by using a champagne bottle stopper. Contrary to popular belief, tricks such as placing a teaspoon in an open bottle of bubbly to prolong the sparkling effect will not work as well as you may think.
As for food pairings, champagne goes well with a wide variety of foods. Drier champagnes like brut and extra brut are versatile, pairing well with poultry, seafood, and other rich or savoury dishes. Sweeter champagnes like demi-sec, sec and extra sec pair well with bold flavours like sweet desserts and spicy cuisine. Doux, the very sweetest of champagnes on the brut scale, is a lovely companion for after-dinner treats.
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