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A fact you could be forgiven for overlooking, so much does the name speak for itself. Its success has made champagne a brand of its own, but it’s important to remember that it is, first and foremost, a type of wine. A wine from the sparkling family of wines, as opposed to the still varieties.
On 4 July 4th 2015, the “Hillsides, Houses, and Cellars of Champagne” were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This highest of distinctions shines. The spotlight on far more than a landscape of vineyards; it acknowledges the work of an industry that has distributed, spread, and protected a unique product.
The appellation’s production area was set by a law passed in 1927, covering 34,000 hectares. A victim of its own success, champagne has had its fair share of imposters. Only wines grown, harvested, and made in the official Champagne region in France can be called champagne!
Champagne’s vineyards can be divided into four main regions. The northernmost is Montagne de Reims, where pinot noir grapes produce robust, generous wines, while the pinot meunier grown in the Marne Valley brings its full fruity flavour to rosé champagnes. South of Épernay, the Côte des Blancs and its chalky soil is the promised land for elegant chardonnay, and further south still, the Côte des Bar and its continental climate produces a lighter pinot noir.
But within these larger areas lies a mosaic of smaller terroir, with each parcel of land producing a wine with its own personality.
Blanc de blancs champagne is made using chardonnay, a white grape. That’s easy to grasp!
A blanc de noirschampagne is made using only black grapes (Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier). Two grape varieties with darker skin and white flesh.
There are two ways to make rosé champagne. A short maceration of black grapes, extracting some of their colour, or by mixing still white and red wine from the appellation.
The Champagne (or traditional) method is the meticulously defined winemaking process used to make champagne. Over the centuries, Champagne’s winemakers learned how to tame the bubbles to make their diverse range of excellent cuvées. As far back as the 18th century, “La Grande Dame” of Champagne, Madame Clicquot, defied convention and perfected the technique.
The diversity of its terroirs, the alchemy of its assemblages, the secrets of its liqueurs de tirage, and the years spent maturing in mysterious vaulted wine cellars combine to produce a whole spectrum of personalities, with something to delight every palate, from aperitif to dessert!
Champagne is a region where the beauty of its landscape and the craftsmanship of its people conspire to produce a unique wine.