Wines of Champagne, France

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France Wine mapGeography & Climate

Champagne is the most northerly wine region in France, about 90miles Northeast of Paris.  The climate here is extreme; bone-chilling cold in winter with damaging frost but hot, humid in the summer. 

Once a seabed deep below by the ocean floor, Champagne today is the result of prehistoric sea retreating and further exposing million years of fossilized seashells, limestone with chalk and mineral subsoil. Champagne houses age their wines in extended cave cellars, this is possible only because of the deep layer of Chalk deposit found all over Champagne.

Viticulture

Only 3 grapes permitted in the making of Champagne, which are grown roughly in equal amount: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier for red and Chardonnay for white. 

Champagne is divided into 5 subregions, each specializes in a grape varietal.

Montagne De Reims -Kingdom of Pinot Noir with the most Grand Cru vineyards.

Vallee de la Marne -dominated by Pinot Meaunier and smaller amount of Pinot Noir, also home to a few Grand Cru vineyards.

Cote De Blancs -As the name suggested (Blanc -white), this the land for Chardonnay.  Surprisingly, the region also produces good quality red wines, particularly from Coteaux Champenois.

Cote de Sezanne – Newest classified region in Champagne but quickly earned its reputation from Chardonnay grape.

Vignoble de L’Aube -Pinot Noir also finds home here in Aube, the region is known for Rose’ style wine made from -of course- Pinot Noir.

Joseph Perrier ChampagneWinemaking

Champagne is a wine producing region in France made famous by its Sparkling wine -known by the same name: Champagne.  Only sparkling wine produced from Champagne under the Traditional method can be labelled as Champagne -although many other New World producers often label their sparkling wines Champagne for marketing boost.   Sparkling wine made under the Traditional method in France but outside of Champagne is referred to as Cremant; in the case of Languedoc, it is Blanquette de Limoux. 

It is hard to imagine Champagne without blending; Champagne get its irresistible flavors, texture and aroma from blending of the 3 permitted grapes.  There are several kinds of Champagne produced in the region, which range from dry, off-dry to even sweet.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne

  • Blanc de Blanc -Champagne made entirely from Chardonnay grape.
  • Blanc de Noirs -Champagne made by blending Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes.
  • Single vineyard -Similar to still wines from reputable vineyards, Champagne can be made from grapes sorted from a single vineyard.  This will demand a higher price since it comes from selected (usually classified) vineyards with much smaller production.
  • Rose -similar to Rose still wine, Champagne can be made in this style -minimal skin contact gives it a salmon and pinkish color.

Any of the Champagne above can be made into the following styles, which are indications of quality.

  • Non-vintage (NV) -most Champagne made each year is non-vintage, that means the grapes sorted can come from multiple years (or vintages).  This explains why most champagne bottles do not include a vintage (year).
  • Vintage -only in year with ideal growing conditions, a vintage Champagne will be made.  Grapes used can only come from that particular year.   Vintage Champagne are usually aged for several years to enhance flavors and texture before released.  It is common that a Champagne house can skip a year or two in making Vintage Champagne if the grapes harvested are not at the right quality.  Vintage Champagne will indicate a year of harvest on its bottle.  Champagne house Moet-Chadon produces Dom Perignon -their exclusively Vintage-Champagne.  It costs about $150 per bottle.
  • Tete de Cuvee & Cuvee de Prestige -This is the best blend a Champagne house can offer.  Grapes are intricately selected from top vineyards and only made in years with ideal growing conditions.

Dom Perignon Champagne 2003

Thomas Le, CS.

 

 

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Thomas Le

-Certified Sommelier (CMS)

Napa Reserva -Falling for wine, one sip at a time. TM

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