Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of wine to effect carbonation. It is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France, from which it takes its name. While the term "champagne" is used by some makers of sparkling wine in other parts of the world, numerous countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the Champagne appellation. In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Other countries, such as the United States, have recognized the exclusive nature of this name, yet maintain a legal structure that allows longtime domestic producers of sparkling wine to continue to use the term "Champagne" under specific circumstances.
Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. Churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims and champagne wine was served as part of coronation festivities . In 1114, William of Champeaux, bishop of Châlons-en-Champagne, issued the Grande charte champenoise (Great Champagne Chart) which defined the agricultural and viticultural possessions of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre-aux-Monts, thus giving rise to the modern Champagne wine region.
Kings appreciated the still, light, and crisp wine, and offered it as an homage to other monarchs in Europe. In the 17th century, still wines of Champagne were the wines for celebration in European countries. The English were the biggest consumers of Champagne wines.
Although it is still widely believed that the first commercial sparkling wine was produced in the Limoux area of Languedoc in 1531, this was disproved by Tom Stevenson in Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (1998), where he recalls having "discovered that the records date from 1544, not 1531" and claims these records contain "no mention of the wine being sparkling, nor even any use of words that could be construed to mean the slightest effervescence".
The Champagne house of Gosset was founded as a still wine producer in 1584 and is the oldest Champagne house still in operation today. Ruinart was founded in 1729 and was soon followed by Taittinger (1734), Moët et Chandon (1743) and Veuve Clicquot (1772).
The nineteenth century saw an explosive growth in champagne production going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.
Around 1700, sparkling Champagne, as we know it today, was born in France. However, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. Merrett presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise in 1662.
Although the French monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715) did not invent champagne, it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar to withstand the fermentation pressure. In France, the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; its pressure led it to be called "the devil's wine" (le vin du diable) as bottles exploded or the cork jolted away. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the first and only fermentation had finished. Champagne did not utilize the so-called méthode champenoise until the 19th century, 300 years after Christopher Merret documented the process.
Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power. The leading manufacturers devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine, associating it and themselves with nobility and royalty. Through advertising and packaging they sought to associate champagne with high luxury, festivities and rites of passage. Their efforts coincided with an emerging middle class that was looking for ways to spend its money on symbols of upward mobility.
In 1866 the famous entertainer and star of his day, George Leybourne, began a career of making celebrity endorsements for Champagne. The Champagne maker Moët commissioned him to write and perform songs extolling the virtues of Champagne, especially as a reflection of taste, affluence, and the good life. He also agreed to drink nothing but Champagne in public. Leybourne was seen as highly sophisticated and his image and efforts did much to establish Champagne as an important element in enhancing social status. It was a marketing triumph, the results of which endure to this day.
In the 1800s Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the modern Champagne is today, The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne, the modern Champagne, was created for the British in 1876.
Regardless of the legal requirements for labeling, extensive education efforts by the Champagne region and the use of alternative names by non-Champagne quality sparkling wine producers, some consumers continue to regard champagne as a generic term for white sparkling wines, regardless of origin. The laws described here were intended to reserve the term as a designation of origin. In the European Union and many other countries, the name Champagne is legally protected by the Treaty of Madrid (1891) designating only the sparkling wine produced in the eponymous region and adhering to the standards defined for it as an Appellation d'origine contrôlée; the right was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. This legal protection has been accepted by numerous other countries worldwide. Most recently Canada, Australia and Chile signed agreements with Europe that will limit the use of the term Champagne to only those products produced in the Champagne region. The United States has created a legal loophole that permits wineries to use the semi-generic term champagne on the label of their sparkling wines but does not allow new producers to use the term. .
Even the term méthode champenoise or champagne method was forbidden consequent to an EU court decision in 1994. As of 2005, the description most often legally used for sparkling wines not from Champagne yet using the second fermentation in the bottle process is méthode traditionnelle. Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, and many producers use special terms to define them: Spain uses Cava, Italy designates it spumante, and South Africa uses Cap Classique. An Italian sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape uses the DOCG Asti. In Germany, Sekt is a common sparkling wine. Other French wine regions cannot use the name Champagne, i.e. Burgundy and Alsace produce Crémant. In addition, most quality producers refuse to use the term "Champagne" on their sparkling wines even if their countries' laws do not explicitly forbid such use.
Other sparkling wines not from Champagne sometimes use the term "sparkling wine" on their label, while most countries have labeling laws preventing use of the word Champagne on any wine not from that region. Some – including the United States – permit wine producers to use the name “champagne” as a semi-generic name if they have used it before March 10, 2006. The term is banned from all new labels in the United States. One reason American wine producers are allowed to use European wine names is that the Treaty of Versailles, despite President Wilson's signature, was not ratified by the U.S. Senate. The Treaty of Versailles included a clause limiting the German wine industry and allowing use of the word Champagne only for wines from the Champagne region (the site of WWI battles). As the U.S. Senate did not ratify the Treaty, this agreement was never officially respected in the United States.
Current U.S. regulations require that what is defined as a semi-generic name (Champagne) shall only appear on a wine's label if the appellation of the actual place of origin appears and the label was approved by the Federal Government before March 10, 1996 . As US appellations can be quite general, many US sparkling wines use the terms "California champagne," "New York champagne" or even the more general "American champagne."
The Champagne winemaking community, under the auspices of the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economic interests. They include codification of the most suitable growing places; the most suitable grape types (most Champagne is a blend of up to three grape varieties — chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier — though five other varieties are allowed); and a lengthy set of requirements specifying most aspects of viticulture. This includes pruning, vineyard yield, the degree of pressing, and the time that wine must remain on its lees before bottling. It can also limit the release of Champagne to market to maintain prices. Only when a wine meets these requirements may it be labeled Champagne. The rules agreed upon by the CIVC are submitted for the INAO's final approval.
The government organization that controls wine appellations in France, the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, is preparing to make the largest revision of the region's legal boundaries since 1927, in response to economic pressures. With soaring demand and limited production of grapes, Champagne houses say the rising price could produce a consumer backlash that would harm the industry for years into the future. That, along with political pressure from villages that want to be included in the expanded boundaries, led to the move.
The village of Champagne, Switzerland has traditionally made a still wine labeled as "Champagne", the earliest records of viticulture dated to 1657. In an accord with the EU, the Swiss government conceded in 1999 that by 2004 the village would phase out use of the name. Sales dropped from 110,000 bottles a year to 32,000 after the change. In April 2008 the villagers resolved to the fight against the restriction following a Swiss open-air vote.
Méthode Champenoise is the traditional method by which Champagne is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although each brand has its own secret recipe) and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavour. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared. This means that the champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.
After ageing, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage (riddling, in English), so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup is added to maintain the level within the bottle. The process described above is the industrial one, the manual one is in fact no more used, it relied on the skills of the wine maker able to get rid of the lees that had accumulated just under the cap with as little wine as possible.
There are more than one hundred champagne houses and 15,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers) in Champagne. These companies manage some 32,000 hectares of vineyards in the region and employ more than 10,000 people.
Annual sales by all producers total more than 300 million yearly bottles, roughly €4.3 billion. Roughly two-thirds of these sales are made by the large champagne houses with their grandes marques (major brands). Fifty-eight percent (58%) of total production is sold in France, and the remaining 42% exported worldwide – primarily to the UK, the U.S., Germany, and Belgium . Generally, champagne producers collectively hold stock of about 1 billion bottles being matured, some three years of sales volume .
The type of champagne producer can be identified from the abbreviations followed by the official number on the bottle:
In the 19th century, Champagne producers made a concentrated effort to market their wine to women. This was in stark contrast to the traditionally "male aura" that the wines of France had—particularly Burgundy and Bordeaux. Laurent-Perrier again took the lead in this area with advertisements touting their wine's favour with the Countess of Dudley, the wife of the 9th Earl of Stamford, the wife of the Baron Tollemache, and the opera singer Adelina Patti. Champagne labels were designed with images of romantic love and marriage as well as other special occasions that were deemed important to women, such as the baptism of a child.
In some advertisements, the Champagne houses catered to political interest such as the labels that appeared on different brands on bottles commemorating the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution of 1789. On some labels there were flattering images of Marie-Antoinette that appealed to the conservative factions of French citizens that viewed the former queen as a martyr. On other labels there were stirring images of Revolutionary scenes that appealed to the liberal left sentiments of French citizens. As World War I loomed, Champagne houses put images of soldiers and countries' flags on their bottles, customizing the image for each country to which the wine was imported. During the Dreyfus Affair, one Champagne house released a Champagne Antijuif with anti-Semitic advertisements to take advantage of the wave of anti-Semitism that hit parts of France.
It is also used to launch ships when a bottle is smashed over the hull during the ship's launch. If the bottle fails to break this is often thought to be bad luck.
The black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier give the wine its length and backbone. They are predominantly grown in two areas - the Montagne de Reims and the Valée de la Marne. The Montagne de Reims run east-west to the south of Reims, in northern Champagne. They are notable for north-facing chalky slopes that derive heat from the warm winds rising from the valleys below. The River Marne runs west-east through Champagne, south of the Montagne de Reims. The Valée de la Marne contains south-facing chalky slopes. Chardonnay gives the wine its acidity and biscuit flavour. The majority of Chardonnay is grown in a north-south-running strip to the south of Epernay, called the Côte des Blanc, including the villages of Avize, Oger and Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger. These are east-facing vineyards, with terroir similar to the Côte de Beaune. The various terroirs account for the differences in grape characteristics and explain the appropriateness of blending juice from different grape varieties and geographical areas within Champagne, to get the desired style for each Champagne house.
Most Champagnes are made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, for example 60%/40%. Blanc de blanc (white of white) Champagnes are made from 100% Chardonnay. Possibly the most exquisite, and definitely the most expensive of these is grown in a single Grand cru vineyard in Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger for Salon. Blanc de noir (white of black) Champagne is pressed from 100% Pinot Noir or black grapes, using a special quick-pressing, so that the black colour of the skin does not stain the vin de presse (pressed grape juice).
Champagne is typically light in color even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé wines are produced throughout France by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time. Rosé Champagne is notable as it is the only wine that allows the production of Rosé by the addition a small amount of red wine during blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible colour, allowing a constant Rosé colour from year-to-year.
There are several other grape varieties permitted for historical reasons, however, but rare in current usage. The sparsely cultivated varieties (0.02% of the total vines planted in Champagne) of Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc, may still be found in modern cuvées. while the directives of INAO make conditional allowances according to the complex laws of 1927 and 1929, and plantings made prior to 1938. The complete list of the 10 actual and theoretical varieties reads Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot gris (in Champagne named Fromenteau), Pinot de juillet, Pinot rosé, and Gamay. The Gamay vines of the region were scheduled to be uprooted by 1942, but due to World War II, this was postponed until 1962.
The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Champagne was generally much sweeter than what we see today.
The original prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, Champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-range wine produced to the highest standards (and priced accordingly) was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876, but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar.
Cristal was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage. Then came Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée' in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955). In the last three decades of the twentieth century, most Champagne houses followed these with their own prestige cuvées, often named after notable people with a link to that producer (Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame, the nickname of the widow of the house's founder's son; Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, named for the British prime minister; and Laurent-Perrier's Cuvée Alexandra rosé, to name just three examples), and presented in non-standard bottle shapes (following Dom Pérignon's lead with its eighteenth-century revival design).
An initial burst of effervescence occurs when the champagne contacts the dry glass on pouring. These bubbles may form on imperfections in the glass that facilitate nucleation or on cellulose fibres left over from the wiping/drying process as shown by Gérard Liger-Belair, Richard Marchal, and Philippe Jeandel with a high-speed video camera. . However, after the initial rush, these naturally occurring imperfections are typically too small to consistently act as nucleation points as the surface tension of the liquid smooths out these minute irregularities.
The nucleation sites that act as a source for the ongoing effervescence are not natural imperfections in the glass, but actually occur where the glass has been etched by the manufacturer or the customer. This etching is typically done with acid, a laser, or a glass etching tool from a craft shop to provide nucleation sites for continuous bubble formation (note that not all glasses are etched in this way)
In May 2008, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted a lecture on the science behind the bubbles in champagne given by Gérard Liger-Belair. It was later released as a Science of Champagne podcast
Dom Pérignon was originally charged by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 1700s, cellar workers would have to wear heavy iron mask that resembled a baseball catcher's mask to prevent injury from spontaneously bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle's disintegration could cause a chain reaction, with it being routine for cellars to lose 20-90% of their bottles to instability. The mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations "The Devil's Wine".
Champagne is mostly fermented in two sizes of bottles, standard bottles (750 mL), and magnums (1.5 L). In general, magnums are thought to be higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area favors the creation of appropriately-sized bubbles. However, there is no hard evidence for this view. Other bottle sizes, named for Biblical figures, are generally filled with Champagne that has been fermented in standard bottles or magnums.
Sizes larger than Jeroboam (3.0 L) are rare. Primat sized bottles (27 L) - and as of 2002 Melchizedek sized bottles (30 L) - are exclusively offered by the House Drappier. The same names are used for bottles containing wine and port; however Jeroboam, Rehoboam and Methuselah refer to different bottle volumes. Unique sizes have been made for special occasions and people, the most notable example perhaps being the 20 fluid ounce / 60 cL. bottle (Imperial pint) made specially for Sir Winston Churchill by Pol Roger.
Champagne corks are built from several sections and are referred to as aglomerated corks. The mushroom shape that occurs in the transition is a result of the bottom section, which is in contact with the wine, being composed of two stacked discs of pristine cork, cemented to the upper portion which is a conglomerate of ground cork and glue. Prior to insertion, a sparkling wine cork is almost 50% larger than the opening of the bottle. Originally they start as a cylinder and are compressed prior to insertion into the bottle. Over time their compressed shape becomes more permanent and the distinctive "mushroom" shape becomes more apparent.
The aging of the champagne post disgorgement can to some degree be told by the cork, as the longer it has been in the bottle the less it returns to its original cylinder shape.
Additionally one should hold the flute by the stem or base as opposed to the bowl and refrain from overzealous clinking.
Alternatively, when tasting Champagne, a big red wine glass (e.g; a glass for Bordeaux) can be used, as the aroma spreads better in the larger volume of the glass. Glasses should not be overfilled: flutes should be filled only to ⅔ of the glass, and big red wine glasses not more than ⅓ of the glass.
Champagne is always served cold, its ideal drinking temperature at 7 to 9 °C (43 to 48 °F). Often the bottle is chilled in a bucket of ice and water before opening. Champagne buckets are made specifically for this purpose, and often have a larger volume than standard wine-cooling buckets (to accommodate the larger bottle, and more water and ice).
The ice bucket only serves to chill the wine prior to opening. Chilling allows one to remove the cork without losing any of the wine and carbonation. Once opened the Champagne should not be returned to the ice bucket but allowed to 'warm' so that its flavor profile can be tasted more apparently.