All About Champagne
“Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.” –Charles Dickens
Champagne is great all the time. Celebrations? Check. Date night? Check. Casual night in? Check. Point is, there is no wrong occasion to enjoy a nice glass of Champagne! Possibly During these warm summer days while you are out on your patio dreaming of cooler fall weather, here are some pointers on what to look for on your champaign label. Even if it’s in a different language you should review: Location, Vintage, Sweetness and what Stemware you use.
This one is quite simple in definition, but in practice can be confusing if you are not looking closely. Champagne is only truly a Champagne if the grapes are grown and bottled using the ‘méthode champenoise’ in Champagne region of France. The confusing element comes into play as Champagne is sometimes used synonymously with sparkling wine, which is not always the case. There are plenty of other regions around the world that make sparkling wine but cannot be called Champagne. The two main grapes used for Champagne blends is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; there are other grapes grown and used, but not to the same extent. Personally, I prefer Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, known as blanc de blancs.
Vintage is the year the grapes were harvested. An effective way to think of why vintage is important is to compare it to the health of your yard in weather patterns like droughts, severe heat, frosts, or downpours as the vintners face the same thing, but with a fickle fruit. For most wines it is simple to find the vintage of the bottle but can be trickier for Champagne. Nearly 80% of Champagne is ‘NV’ or ‘Non-Vintage’, meaning the wine is made from juice from more than one year, dictated by the ‘NV’ on the bottle. A Vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is only comprised of grapes grown in that year and will have the year listed on the bottle.
This may come as a surprise, but there are varying levels of sweetness, or lack thereof, for Champagne. This scale has seven levels and is classified based on the sugar measurements in the wine:
Brut Nature – Bone Dry (Driest), Extra Brut – Very Dry, Brut – Dry (Most popular), Extra Sec – Hint of sweetness to noticeably sweet, Sec – Sweet, Demi-Sec – Very Sweet, Doux – Extremely Sweet (Sweetest)
When you think of a glass of Champagne, I would be willing to bet that you see a tall Champagne flute with the bubbles racing to the top. The flair and staple of the Champagne flute is hard to be forgotten, but I would propose a change to your stemware that would help your wine live to its full potential. When using a tall, straight flute, they are typically small in diameter and let the bouquet, or smell, of the wine escape the glass before you experience it. There are two other options I would recommend, the old school The Great Gatsby-esque coupe glass or a ‘grand’ Champagne glass that has a wider bowl than a typical flute.
In the world of wine, nothing is as simple as it seems. There can be strict rules that dictate how certain regions produce their wine. The vintners spend countless hours tending to the grapes from growth through bottling. The details and subtle nuances of wine can be intimidating, but the end product is something we all enjoy because of the complexities and delicate variations.