When is a sparkling wine called Champagne?
Sparkling wine made using the ‘traditional method’ and in Champagne adhering to strict growing and winemaking techniques can only be called Champagne. Champagne is produced in the region of Champagne. The three towns here are Reims, Épernay and Ay.
Even if a winemaker produces a sparkling in another region (other than Champagne) made from the same grapes, using the same techniques, adhering to the same yield requirements and following the same production methods as in Champagne, it cannot be called Champagne.
Appellation d’Origine Controlée
The wine that is produced in the region of Champagne needs to reflect the soil and climate; terroir of where it is grown. As such the AOC regulations include:
- Production area (geography and climate)
- Grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
- Ripeness and alcoholic strength
- Yields – with a maximum yield per hectare
- Viticulture e.g method of pruning
What is the traditional method?
This is the method of making sparkling wine in Champagne. It used to known as the ‘champagne method’. This starts with pressing after the grapes are brought in from the vineyards.
1.Pressing – After the grapes are hand-picked, they are pressed at the winery
2.Base wines – after the juice is pressed it undergoes fermentation. It is then blended with other base wines after much tasting and assessing. It is important to achieve a consistent style for a non-vintage Champagne. Some houses use up to almost half of their reserve wines in a blend.
3.Secondary fermentation – A mixture of yeast and sugar (called liqueur de tirage) is added to the still blended wine which creates the second fermentation in bottle. It is this secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles. The bottles then are stored horizontally.
4.Ageing on lees – A result of fermentation are the lees which are dead yeast cells and other particles. As the wine remains in bottle, it picks up the flavours and compounds of the lees called yeast autolysis. Non-vintage champagne has to remain on the lees for at least 15 months. While in bottle the yeast cells break down and the result is added texture, mouthfeel and complexity to the wine. The result is also reduced astringency in the wine. These effects become more noticeable after 18 months in bottle, non-vintage will remain in bottle for two to three years while vintage will be four to five.
5.Riddling – Known as remuage in French. This process moves the deposit in the wine into the neck of the bottle. Turning and moving every bottle by hand was labour and time intensive. Since the 1970s automatic racks called gyropalettes have been used. The metal crates can hold up to 504 bottles and their positions can be changed from horizontal to vertical, done by remote control. So instead of taking six weeks, the riddling process can take just three days (with the riddling agents added to the bottles).
6.Disgorgement and dosage – this is the last stage of the traditional method. The deposit which is in the neck of the bottle is removed through a process of freezing the bottle neck. Once this is removed, the dosage is added. This is a mixture of wine and sugar syrup, the exact amount added depends on the style the house wants to achieve. Most dry sparkling wine will contain between 5 and 12 g/l residual sugar.
Then these bottles are corked and laid to rest in the cellars (the time depending on the type of Champagne) and later sold.
The below infographic from Wine Folly shows the different sweetness levels in Champagne.
To read more about Champagne and the different regions check out our previous blog here.
If you want to understand a little more about non-vintage and vintage Champagnes as well as Prestige Cuvées have a read here
Drop in and speak to us about the different styles that we stock in the store!