Champagne, a province located in the northeastern part of France is renowned the world over for its production of sparkling white wine by the same name. The laws of several nations including EU have a special reservation for the term “Champagne” which is exclusively used for denoting wines that are sourced from this French region, distanced 100 miles from eastern Paris and comply with the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne regulations during the wine making process. The viticulture regions of the administrative province of Champagne has been legally divided into five wine production districts which are Côte de Sézanne, Vallée de la Marne, Aube, Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. The principal varietal grapes that are grown in the region for making Champagne wine include Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Primarily, there are four basic types of champagne wines, viz. non-vintage (N.V) also known as "style de maison" or "house style", vintage, rose and prestige cuvees. Some of the most popular brands selling Champagnes include Moet & Chandon, Piper Heidsieck, Leroux-Mineau, Charles Heidsieck, Deligny Gerard, Gremillet and Fournier Thierry.
Historical Background of Champagne Wine
The world recognition of champagne is associated with the anointment of the kings in France. In the historical times, the champagne wine was associated with power and luxury and was treated as a royal drink. Thus, this wine was most popularly enjoyed by the royal families and by high class people during festivities.
The Champagne region began to taste prosperity during the Carolingian reign, when the Charlemagne encouraged the plantation of vines in the region. With this, also started the tradition of crowning the kings at Reims in the region, giving the region and the wines further popularity. However, as an aftermath of the Hundred Years' War, the vineyards were destroyed in 1560. The forthcoming periods saw more wars and further destruction. It was until the 1660s that the region started to engage in sparkling Champagne wine production again, under the reign of Louis XIV.
The reputation of Champagne as a wine making region goes back to the Middle Ages, when, the wines produced in this region were declared to be the best in the world by a native Champenois Pope Urban II. Also, the work - La Bataille des Vins by poet Henry d'Andeli rated the wine produced in the regions of Hautvillers, Reims and Épernay in the Champagne province, the best in the entire Europe. With the growing reputation of this wine making region, several kings and noble authorities started to purchase vineyard lands in Champagne. Also, the first record of Champagne wine export from this French region to England comes from an account of the year 1518.
The still wines of Champagne region were more in demand in Paris, where these wines were marketed as vins de la montagne (wines of the mountain) and vins de la rivière (wines of the river), in reference to the river Marne and the wooded terrain that led to Seine in Paris. The region of Champagne had been in a strong competition with the wine region of Burgundy for its production of Flemish wine and hence, capitalized more on its Reims’ region and began planting more of Pinot Noir varietals. However, these red wines faced a tough competition from the rich Burgundy wines and eventually, went on to focus more on the production of white Champagne wine.
Champagne production experienced a heavy boost in its growth in the nineteenth century and its annual sales shot up from 300,000 bottles to 20 million bottles within a span of 1800 to 1850.
Popular Champagne Wine Regions
Since 1927, the Champagne region of France has been legally split into five wine producing zones, which are – Côte de Sézanne, Vallée de la Marne, Aube, Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. This region of Champagne wraps in 33,500 hectares of vine plantations and encapsulates around 319 villages, sheltering 5, 000 wine growers who culture their own Champagne wine and the rest and 14,000 growers who sell the varietal grapes grown in this region. This region is soon to expand to accommodate 350 wine making villages. Each district produces wines with unique taste and characteristics. The Pinot grapes planted on the north facing slopes of Montagne de Reims contribute to the taste of the wine, the ones grown on the south facing slopes make the wines more powerful and the ones grown across the region make the headiness and bouquet of the Champagne wine. Similar such differences are observed in the grapes of different regions, contributing different characteristic to the wines.
Popular Champagne Wines
The grapes that are primarily grown in the Champagne region for making Champagne wine include Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is the most widely cultivated grape in Aube and experiences a favorable growth in Montagne de Reims. The vineyards of Vallée de la Marne are dominated by Pinot Meunier grape and the Côte des Blancs region exclusively to Chardonnay culture. While the sparkling Champagne is the most popular of all, it is not the only Champagne wine produced in the region from these grapes. Still Champagne wines are also made, especially around the Bouzy village and marketed under the Coteaux Champenois appellation label. The other Champagne varieties are rosé from the region of Rosé des Riceys, vin de liqueur (or Ratafia de Champagne) and Marc de Champagne.
Champagne Wine: Trivia
- The Champagne house of Gosset, which was established as a still wine maker in 1584 is operating till today as the oldest Champagne house.
- The effervescence of the champagne wine is best maintained by storing the bottle in a cool and dark place maintaining a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees.
- Champagne wines can be stored for up to two years, depending upon the variety.
- Champagnes are already aged prior to being sold and so, further aging can deteriorate the wines.
- Champagne should be served cold, ideally at 7 to 9 °C in a Champagne flute.
- The term used for breaking the head of Champagne wine bottle is called “Sabrage,” while the tool itself is called “sabre.”