Champagne is made from the red pinot noir (38%), the black pinot meunier (35%) or the white chardonnay (27%) grape. Each vine is vigorously pruned and trained to produce a small quantity of high-quality grapes. Indeed, to maintain exclusivity (and price), the designated areas where grapes used for Champagne can be grown and the amount of wine produced each year are limited.
Making Champagne according to the traditional method (méthode champenoise) is a complex procedure. There are two fermentation processes, the first in casks and the second after the wine has been bottled and had sugar and yeast added. Bottles are then aged in cellars for two to five years, depending on the cuvée (vintage).
During the two months in early spring that the bottles are aged in cellars kept at 12°C, the wine turns effervescent. The sediment that forms in the bottle is removed by remuage, a painstakingly slow process in which each bottle, stored horizontally, is rotated slightly every day for weeks until the sludge works its way to the cork. Next comes dégorgement: the neck of the bottle is frozen, creating a blob of solidified Champagne and sediment, which is then removed.
A Reason to Celebrate
The Champagne region really had a reason to crack open the fizz and pop corks when it finally achieved Unesco World Heritage status in 2015. The accolade refers to three specific areas: the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ; St-Nicaise Hill in Reims; and the av de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Épernay.
Fizz of the Future
Thanks to Champagne's protected (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status, only the stuff that's made in the region, which is subjected to rigorous laws and controls, can actually call itself Champagne – anything else is just sparkling wine by a different name.
But that hasn't stopped some of the major Champagne houses from latching on to the global thirst for fizz and casting their gazes further afield. In 2011, Moët & Chandon began establishing a winery in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region in northwestern China, thereby kick-starting something of a new trend.
More recently Taittinger planted its first vines on English soil in Kent in spring 2017. Quick to recognise the rise of British sparkling wine, the Champagne house aims to have its first ready by 2023 under the name Domaine Evremond.