This time we address the fascinating terroir, land, climate, and history of Champagne. This is the less-told story of the region, not the one about how the wine is made or the different types you can buy. We hope to show Champagne in a different light.
*NOTE: We don't discuss the still wine areas of Champagne, Coteaux Champenois and Rosé de Riceys because they are made such limited quantities and are very hard to find.
What is Champagne?
- Sparkling wine exclusively produced from grapes grown, harvested and made into wine within the Champagne delimited region, in France.
Location, climate, terroir
- Northern location – Reims at 49.5 and Epernay around 49˚N (US—Canada border)
- LANDSCAPE:Sloping vineyards good for drainage and intensity of sun exposure
- Cool: average temps of 66˚F/18˚C during growing season – grapes can’t fully ripen (acidic, lower sugar good for Champagne making)
- Wet, frost risk, low sunlight hours
- SOIL: Limestone subsoil – mainly chalk, marl, limestone
- GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier
- Pinot Noir: palate weight and dark berry aromas.
- Pinot Meunier: acidity, fruitiness. less susceptible to rot
- Chardonnay - creamy roundness, floral aromas
- Also permitted, rarely used: Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, Arbane
- LOCATION/SUB AREAS:
- 84,000 acres/34,000 ha of vineyard
- 150 KM/95 miles east of Paris
- 320 villages, five main growing areas:
- Cote des Blancs– and particularly the Cote de Sezanne – are where the finest Chardonnay sites are found, outcrop of chalk.
- Montagne de Reims (chalk) and the Vallee de la Marne (Marl, sand or clay) are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
- Aube: Pinot Meunier
- Egyptians and Romans and the hatred of bubbles
- Champagne's rise to fame: 987, Hugh Capet was crowned King of France at the cathedral Reims. Association of the region with royalty
- Quality of the wine in the Middle Ages: light red, pale pink or grey, and attempt to use elderberry to darken them
- Dom Perignon and his REAL contribution to Champagne (hint: he neither liked bubbles nor any other grape apart from Pinot Noir), AKA -- why he rolls over in his grave whenever anyone pops open a bottle of Dom...
- How the English invented modern Champagne in the mid 1600s.
- The business of Champagne as it rose in the 1800s, including the story of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
- The contributions of Veuve Clicquot—Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin with riddling and dosage (sweetness)
- The Champagne Riots
- World Wars
Interesting Champagne Facts
- Chilling Champagne in the freezer will dumb down the aromas. Chill in an ice bath for 15-20 minutes or refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving
- Younger wine is better colder (8˚ C/46˚F). Older wine is better a little warmer (10˚C /50˚F)
- The shape and condition of the cork indicates how long the wine has spent in the bottle.
- Trapezoid shape: young, newly bottled and the cork is still elastic.
- Tapers at the bottom: cork has been in there longer, older wine.
- Bubbles: Fizz dies with time