Wine for Normal People

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
  •  CLIMATE:
    • 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

 

 

 

History

  • 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
Direct download: Ep_167__Champagne_--_The_Region.mp3
Category:Champagne, French wine -- posted at: 3:50pm EDT