First (1.) fermentation

After pressing, the grape must is usually fermented in large steel tanks or oak barrels. Some winemakers then allow their wine to undergo the process of malolactic fermentation, whereby Oenococcus bacteria transform the malic acids, which are sometimes perceived as «cutting», into «gentler», more «harmonious» lactic acids, giving rise to aromatic buttery and brioche notes.

The result of this first alcoholic fermentation, whereby the CO2 produced in the process could escape effortlessly, is a still wine with about 10% alcohol, the base wine. Up to this point, the production of champagne is similar to the production process of most white wines. But now the typical and often secret champagne methods and procedures are used, which create these sparkling bubbles in the bottle.

Second (2.) fermentation

At least one summer after the production of the base wine, the noble creation of the "assemblage" is filled into champagne bottles by the winegrower families and provided with the so-called "liqueur de tirage", the filling dosage, an in-house mixture of a part of this very assemblage, as well as raw sugar and yeast. Firmly closed with a crown cork and stored horizontally at a temperature of about 10 to 12 degrees, the yeast now begins to convert this sugar into alcohol during this second fermentation.

The resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) cannot escape from the bottle and remains dissolved in the liquid. When the pressurized gas relaxes - when we pop the corks - it returns to its gaseous state and forms bubbles, the "perlage". All sparkling wines are subjected to different methods of this "prise de mousse" (foaming), but only Champagne produces its "foam" directly in the bottle.

After about 6 to 8 weeks, this bottle fermentation is complete, the sugar is completely broken down and the yeasts die. The alcohol content is now increased by another 1 to 2% compared to the 1st fermentation. In the chemical process of "autolysis" that now begins, the dead yeast cells release aromas of bread, sponge cake and toast into the champagne. This process usually takes about 4 to 5 years, but has also been proven over periods of more than 10 years.

For non-vintage champagnes, the minimum aging period is 15 months, and for vintage champagnes it is at least 3 years. Champagne that rests on its dead yeasts remains fresh - even over many years of the maturation period.

Cultivation, harvesting and pressing

Numerous and detailed regulations govern the cultivation, harvesting and pressing of Champagne grape varieties. Grubbing up and replanting must be officially declared. Only after two years - in the language of the winegrowers, from the "third leaf" - do you get grapes that are allowed to bear the "AOC" (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) "Champagne" seal of quality. The rows of plants may be no more than 1.50 metres apart, and the vines themselves may be no less than 90 cm apart, but also no more than 1.50 metres.

The average and comparatively quite high planting density of about 8,000 vines per hectare is based on qualitative considerations. The dense leaf surface optimizes photosynthesis, while the vines have to compete for nutrients in the soil, which leads to fewer champagne grapes per individual plant, but also to increased grape quality.

Strict rules also apply to the pressing of the grapes. Only the not quite 2,000 registered pressing stations ("pressoirs") in Champagne are allowed to press the grapes. And for these, strict quantity regulations apply. From 160 kg of grapes, only the first 82 liters of must may be pressed as the qualitatively higher "Cuvée" and the further 20 liters as "Taille".

In case of the red and blue grape varieties, "Pinot Noir" and "Pinot Meunier", grapes are pressed immediately after harvesting and left resting on their skins for only a very short time (a few minutes), as otherwise the must would absorb the red colour pigments from the skins, which is of course undesirable for the production of white wines.

Assemblage / wine blending

The true art of champagne production is the so-called "assemblage", the blending of wines. In this process, different basic wines are blended into one wine. Champagne is never just a single wine. In the best Champagne houses, countless different base wines from a first fermentation are available for the assemblage. Here, the winemaker plays with the diversity of nature: the site, the grape varieties and the vintages, and adds human knowledge and talent as the fourth dimension of the assemblage.

The uniqueness and expressiveness of the Champagne terroir are reflected in the multi-faceted personalities and endless variations of Champagne wines. The blending of wines from different grape varieties allows the formation of subtle contrasts and complementary characteristics of this drink. With experience from the vineyards, a practised sensory memory and a great deal of creativity, the cellar master blends basic wines with different aromatic and organoleptic characteristics. The overall work of art surpasses the basic wines in terms of quality and delights us with its balance, which nature would not be able to produce without human intervention.

Usually a blend of different vintage wines, in particularly good wine years champagne is made from a single vintage of grapes. For vintageless champagnes, usually about 70% base wines from the current year and 30% reserve wines from previous years are used. This allows producers to bring a very similar champagne to market each year and thus continue their "house style". Only champagnes made from base wines of a specific year are allowed to bear the title "vintage champagne" (Vintage).

Soil / Terroir

The subsoil of Champagne consists of limestone, chalk and marl. The Champagne chalk has formed from skeletons of marine microorganisms. It is also known as "belemnite chalk" because it contains molluscs of that name from the secondary age. This type of soil, dating from the cretaceous age, is found in the heart of the growing area between the "Montagne de Reims" and the "Côte des Blancs". The chalk is highly porous and is able to store 300 to 400 litres of water per cubic metre, so that even in extremely dry summers the water supply of the plants is guaranteed. It also produces the unmistakable mineral note of some Champagne wines.

There are effective regional differences in the soil in this nevertheless quite manageable area of Champagne. Its own distinctive "terroir" inspires the passion of Champagne winemakers, who for centuries have practised mastering the difficult conditions of their vineyard and climate and working with their idiosyncrasies and complexity to create wonderful, unique wines.

A Champagne winegrowing terroir is an area-based concept whose main characteristics - climate, soil, subsoil as well as relief - form the specific framework for a mosaic of microterroirs with unique characteristics, which thousands of Champagne winegrowers bring to optimal fruition thanks to their expertise.

Blanc de Blancs

«A white from white grapes», Blanc de Blancs have been produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes since 1980 and are not only rarer, but usually also somewhat more expensive. Famous growing areas for this grape variety are Cramant, Mesnil and Avize.

Young Blanc de Blancs champagnes are excellent for ageing and develop from a sometimes greenish colour and a floral bouquet into mature champagnes with a golden colour and a bouquet of notes of bread and biscuit.

Blanc de Noirs

"A white from black grapes", Blanc der Noir tends to be stronger and more complex, but still as elegant as a Blanc der Blancs. Also known as "BdN", it is made purely from the two red grape varieties Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or an assemblage of the two. The other five grape varieties permitted in Champagne are white.

The trick lies in the «vinification»: the grapes are pressed extremely gently, the juice is separated from the dark skins as quickly as possible, and thus remains light.

Cuvée

Literally translated, «cuvée» means something like «out of the tank» and, in the case of champagne, refers to a specific batch bottled separately or a specific blend from a harvest or vintage.

One meaning of this term is thus the measure of quality of the wine obtained from the very first, very gentle pressing of the grapes. The best champagnes are made entirely from cuvée. But cuvée champagne can also refer to the specific blend of wines (precisely from different «batches» of a harvest) that go into a champagne house's special recipe.

Only the cuvée is considered to be of sufficient quality to be used for the production of champagne. Should the harvest still bring further must (the waist), this may only be distilled.

Disgorging / dégorgement

Before disgorging, the bottles are stored upside down. During "disgorging", the yeast deposit created during the 2nd fermentation is removed from the neck of the bottle.

Mechanical disgorgement involves immersing the neck of the bottle upside down in a cold bath of -27°C, which molecularly binds the carbonic acid due to this low temperature and prevents the wine from foaming out when the crown cork is removed. The ice plug that is created encloses the residue of yeast and as soon as the bottle is opened, the ice piece is ejected as a result of the pressure, with minimal loss of wine and pressure.

For large bottle sizes and certain cuvées, disgorging is still done by hand, namely "à la volée". The bottle is held with the neck down and then turned over and opened in a flash, so that the pressure flings out the residue without letting too much wine escape.

Dosage

Together with the assemblage, the dosage is the core of the art of champagne production and plays a minor or extremely important role in the sensory development of the drink. Before the bottle is sealed with a champagne cork, it still receives the "liqueur d'expédition", the so-called shipping dosage. All yeasts have either been consumed by the bottle fermentation or expelled at the time of disgorgement, there is no chance of a third fermentation in the bottle.

This dosage liqueur usually consists of the same wine and cane sugar dissolved in it at a ratio of 500 to 750 grams per litre. If it is the cellar master's wish to complete the style of the wine with a final touch of aromas, the shipping dosage was prepared in advance with reserve wines stored in wooden barrels, tanks or even magnum bottles. In some houses, an "Esprit de Cognac" is also often used here.

If the producer wants to preserve the original character of his wine, then the shipping dosage is as neutral as possible. Some champagnes are now labelled as non-dosé, zéro dosage or brut nature (the official designation), which means that no sugar has been added to the "liqueur d'expedition". The sugar content depends on the type of wine desired and is designated as follows (per litre):

- doux over 50 g sugar
- demi-sec between 32 and 50 g sugar
- sec between 17 and 32 g sugar
- extra dry between 12 and 17 g sugar
- brut under 12 g sugar
- extra brut between 0 and 6 g sugar

If the residual sugar content is less than 3 grams per litre and no sugar has been added to the wine, the terms 'brut nature', 'pas dosé' or 'dosage zéro' may be used.

History of the Champagne

There are many stories and myths about the origin of champagne as we know and enjoy it today. It took the efforts of numerous people and a few lucky coincidences for the development of the noble drink. In the 17th century, the then still white wine began to be bottled in order to preserve its freshness, as the wine lost quality when transported in barrels. This early bottling allowed the wine to continue fermenting in the bottle unintentionally, often causing the cork to pop out or the bottle to burst. But if the bottle survived the fermentation, you got an acidic, pleasantly sparkling drink. Especially the English liked this new kind of drink.

We owe today's champagne essentially to the following three people:

Christopher Merret (1614-1695) was an English physician and inventor. In 1662, he presented the Royal Society with a paper entitled "some observations concerning the ordering of wines". In it, he described how the addition of sugar caused a second fermentation of the wine, which gave the wine freshness and perlage. Thus, we can probably attribute controlled bottle fermentation to him and call him the actual inventor of sparkling wine.

According to legend, the Benedictine monk Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715), better known as Dom Pérignon, is often named as the inventor of the "Méthode champenoise". The Moët & Chandon winery played a major role in the creation of the legend, which is not surprising, since the Dom Pérignon champagne label comes from the same company. According to today's knowledge, however, we know that the famous monk did not invent the process, but that he significantly developed it further. In particular, the assemblage, the white pressing of red grapes and various closure techniques can be traced back to him. The bottle size of 0.75 litres that is common today is also due to him. He is said to have introduced this dose - as the average daily ration of a pious man.

Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin (1777-1866), the young widow of a wine merchant, also earned her merits for champagne at the beginning of the 19th century. It too lives on today as the champagne brand "Veuve Clicquot" (French: Widow Clicquot). The "Grand Dame of Champagne" as she was often called, was the first woman to run a champagne house. She developed the process that eliminates the yeast in the bottle by shaking and disgorging the champagne. Thanks to her, we drink the clear and beautiful drink today.

Bottle sizes

Champagne is offered in various bottle sizes. The standard size is the 0.75l bottle. The size of the bottle plays an important role in the ageing and maturing process of the champagne. The same cuvée usually tastes more harmonious in a magnum bottle than in a 1/1 bottle and also matures better afterwards. Even larger formats, on the other hand, no longer offer any advantage, as they were not necessarily fermented in the same bottle.

- 0,2l Quart
- 0,375l Demi
- 0,75l Standard
- 1,5l Magnum
- 3l Jeroboam or Double Magnum
- 4,5l Rehoboam
- 6l Methusalem or Imperiale
- 9l Salmanazar or Salmanasar
- 12l Balthazar or Balthasar
- 15l Nebuchadnezzar
- 18l Melchior or Goliath
- 25l-26l Sovereign or Sovereign
- 27l Primate
- 30l Melchisedech

The usual commercial sizes are demi to double magnum. The production of bottles with 6 liters or more capacity is very complex and cost-intensive and therefore only very limited available.

Sabrage

Sabréing", or sabre, a certainly quite impressive way of opening a champagne bottle with a sabre, very probably has its origins in the time around Emperor Napoleon I. He loved champagne and is said to have decanted champagne bottles with a sabre (French "sabre") with his cavalry officers after a victorious campaign against the Russian Tsarist Empire in 1812.

In France, the "Confrérie du Sabre d'Or" (Brotherhood of the Golden Sabre) - founded in 1986 in the Champagne region and counting over 200,000 members - has made it its task to maintain and pass on the tradition of sabering.

The whole thing also works with a champagne glass, or a biro, instead of a sabre!

Grand Cru / Premier Cru

In the AOC Champagne, vines are grown in 319 villages and communes to produce Champagne. These are rated on a scale of 80 to 100; they differ in terms of soil quality, microclimate, etc. "Grand Crus" receive the highest rating of 100 and "Premier Crus" must achieve a rating between 90 and 99.

Thus, the "Grand Cru" is the higher quality champagne than the "Premier Cru". The grape variety is the decisive factor for the designation as "Premier Cru" or "Gand Cru". Only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes can be given "Grand Cru" status. In order for a champagne to be called "Grand Cru" or "Premier Cru", all grapes must also come from such declared communes. However, different crus (with the correct status) can be blended and does not have to be 100% from grapes of a particular crus to be declared "Grand Cru" or "Premier Cru".

Champagne Corks & Crown Corks

The cork of a champagne bottle, like all corks, originally has an elongated cylindrical shape. The well-known mushroom shape with a conical base was only created later. The cork is inserted into the bottle neck in a highly compressed form. Over time, the cork adapts to the bottle neck and loses its elasticity during storage. Only the lower part of the cork, which comes into contact with the champagne, retains its original elasticity for longer. Therefore, after opening the bottle, the lower part of the cork expands to its original diameter, while the upper part retains the diameter of the bottle neck due to its brittleness. However, the longer the cork has been in the bottle, the smaller the restoring force of this fungus becomes.

In the second fermentation phase (bottle fermentation), the champagne is first closed with a crown cork (bidule) and only after disgorging and adding the dosage is the champagne bottle closed with the champagne cork.

Storage

Champagne should not be stored in the refrigerator. Champagne bottles should be stored lying down: This keeps the natural cork moist and sealed (they lose their elasticity over the years) and, on the other hand, the bottles are always under considerable pressure and standing would only support this additionally. A constant temperature of about ten degrees and a humidity of 70 percent are optimal.

Champagne should not be stored for too long. Delivered bottles are already at their peak. Only vintage champagnes benefit from storage - possibly even for decades.

Maisons / Champagne Houses

Champagne wines owe their worldwide reputation to the talent and experience of Champagne houses. Among the members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne UMC (umbrella organisation of Champagne houses) are the most prestigious houses (even if their name is sometimes bigger than their production volume). Their wines are made from grapes purchased from winemakers of selected Champagne crus or sites that contribute to the style of the brand.

Traditional Method / Méthode Champenoise

The "Méthode Champenoise" (or "Méthode Traditionelle") includes the 1st and 2nd fermentation. In a single, uninterrupted vinification of still wine in barrels, or vats, the desired pressure could never be precisely controlled.

After a maturing period chosen by the winemaker, ranging from a few months to several years, the still wine obtained is bottled. Some of this wine is used in Champagne for the production of tirage liqueurs and dosage. A quantity of the same wine, together with a dose of sugar and yeast, is added to each bottle. These new yeasts then convert the added sugar into alcohol during the 2nd fermentation in the bottle and the resulting CO2 is trapped in the bottle, which is responsible for the bubbling and effervescence of the Champagne when the bottle is opened.

With the removal of the residue ("degorgage") and the addition of the Vesand dosage, the magic and enchantment of the traditional Champagne method is complete.

Vintage / non-vintage

For vintage champagne (non-vintage), usually about 70% base wines from the current year and 30% reserve wines from previous years are used. This enables the producers to bring a very similar champagne onto the market every year and thus to continue their «house style».

Then a chemical process called "autolysis" begins. The dead yeast cells release aromas of bread, sponge cake and toast into the champagne. This process usually takes about 4 to 5 years, but has also been shown to take place over periods of 10 years. Champagne that rests on its dead yeasts remains fresh - even over the many years of the maturation period.

A vintage champagne (also called vintage champagne or "millésime") is only produced in those vintages in which the grapes are of particularly high quality. The grapes used for this champagne all come from the same vintage. As a rule, vintage champagne is only available in the best years.

Perlage

The pearl-shaped bubbles, which are called perlage, are an important quality indicator of champagne and give it a touch of magic. The smaller and finer the bubbles are, the higher the quality and taste of the champagne. If a champagne has too much perlage, this has a negative effect. Too much foam is created on the surface and the aromas of the champagne are lost. Conversely, the aromas cannot develop properly if there is insufficient froth. Perlage, also called foam formation, is a natural process in which the yeast cultures transform the sugar of the grape into alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation.

prime minister cru

The grapes of a "Premier Cru" must come from sites classified in this way. Only 44 villages belong to this level.

Rosé & Saignée

Rosé champagne, a champagne with many faces. In the 1990s, rosé champagne came into fashion and has now secured itself a firm place in the varied range of Champagne with its quality and taste. Most major brands offer Rosé Champagne and many consider it the "in scene" Champagne. There are 3 different production methods for rosé champagne, through the addition of red wine in the "assemblage", the "maceration process" and "Rosé de Pressée".

What we are all aware of is that the juice of blue berries is clear or colourless, not blue or red. The red colouring of a red wine is created during the fermentation of the grape juice, through prolonged contact with the grape skins. The destemmed red berries are macerated for 24 to 72 hours before pressing, depending on the vintage, to obtain the desired colour. During this process, the colour pigments are released from the skins and white grape juice becomes red wine.

This complex and expensive process must be closely monitored and is known as maceration (from the Latin macerare: 'to wear down', 'to make mellow', 'to leach out'). Particularly high-quality rosé champagnes are made in this way by contact with the skins. In this process, a small part of the Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grape skins remains in contact with the must during fermentation. Experts recognise champagnes made in this way and called "Rosé de Saignée" by their significantly stronger bouquet; they harmonise very well with dishes that rather require a light red wine, such as a Burgundy. During the process, other components are released from the berry skins and the grape seeds, phenols and tannins, which have a decisive influence on the sensory characteristics of the later base wines.

The simplest and often used variant to produce rosé champagne is the blending of white and red Champagne base wines through an "assemblage". The taste of the champagne changes slightly as a result and usually becomes somewhat fruitier and fuller-bodied. Red wines from Champagne are only produced in very good vintages and are also offered in small quantities as still wine.

A third production method produces the "Rosé de Pressée", but is rarely used anymore. This method goes back to the champagne production at the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century. With the "Rosé de Pressée" champagne the grapes are only pressed and then fermented immediately something, before the must is separated. The result is a delicate pink color.

Due to its colour, the taste image of rosé champagne is automatically associated with high fruitiness. However, these wines play on a range of flavours, depending on the different production methods and the variety of possibilities with grape varieties, terroirs and philosophies of the winemakers. Outstanding champagnes with the taste of a classic cuvée, plus zero dosage, are the amazing result. Particularly fruity champagnes result from single-varietal "Rosé de Saignée", produced in a maceration process, with a high proportion of Pinot Noir, or from pure Pinot Noir.

Shaking / Remuage

Before the champagne is sold, the dead yeasts must be removed. To do this, the bottle, which is lying horizontally, is turned upside down a little more every day and "shaken" until, after just under a month, the deposits created during the formation of foam have concentrated in the neck of the bottle and this deposit (of yeasts and "rütteladjuvans") can be easily removed during the subsequent disgorgement.

Today, the riddling is still partly done by so-called "remueurs" by hand at the wooden riddling desk. A professional "riddler" can rattle up to 40,000 bottles per day. Marked with a chalk line at the bottom of the bottle, the individual bottles are turned one eighth or one quarter to the left or right with a sure hand movement. In the process, the bottle is gradually moved from a horizontal position to an upside-down position. This gradual turning, which has been carried out in exactly the same way by the Champagne vibrators for centuries, ensures that even the smallest residue collects in the deposit so that the wine is completely clear at the end. In one and a half months, a bottle is shaken by hand an average of 25 times.

Mostly nowadays, however, the jogging process is done by machine. This automated process riddles up to 500 bottles in metal baskets, a so-called "gyropalette", 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this way, the riddling process is reduced from 6 weeks to 1 week without changing the quality of the champagne.

Regions

Champagne is divided into 20 natural regions, each with fairly homogeneous terroirs. These are grouped into six major regions.

- Montagne de Reims

- Vallée de la Marne

- Côte des Blancs

- Côte des Bar

- Petit Morin et Grand Morin

- Côte de Champagne

Grape varieties

Champagne is mainly made from three types of grapes:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Meunier (black Riesling) and
  • Pinot Noir.

Interestingly, the two Pinots belong to the red grape varieties. By quite simple techniques, white wines can also be made from them (Blanc de Noirs).

Serving the champagne

In order for the aromas in the champagne to develop properly, it must not be too cold. Ideally the temperature should be between 6 and 8 degrees.
An exception are vintage champagnes, which are drunk slightly warmer (about 9 to 11 degrees) due to their full bodies.
In a glass, champagne warms up quite quickly at normal ambient temperatures. It is therefore recommended not to fill the glasses too full and to store the bottle in a champagne cooler.

Saignée

Rosé de Saignée Champagne
A more complex and expensive process - maceration. Champagnes produced in this way are also known as Rosé de Saignée. After pressing, the must is not immediately separated from the skins, but remains for a few hours. This process must be monitored very closely. The longer the must is in contact with the skins, the more intense the colouring. During the process, further components are released from the berry skins and grape seeds, phenols and tannins, which have a decisive influence on the sensory characteristics of the later base wines.

Terroirs

A wine-growing area is an area-specific concept, whereby collective knowledge of the interactions between identifiable physical and biological factors and the wine-growing practices applied in the area is acquired, giving the products of that area their uniqueness.

The three main characteristics of Champagne's terroir - climate, soil and subsoil and relief - form the special framework for a mosaic of microterroirs with unique characteristics, which the 15,000 Champagne winegrowers use their expertise to develop to the full.

Champagne shower

Zero Dosage

Zero added sugar - Enchanté!