Champagne – The King of Fizz…

When you think of the finer things in life, then champagne and luxury go hand in hand.  We enjoy it during times of happiness and achievement, and there’s probably not a person on the planet who wouldn’t consider raising a glass for a wedding, christening or some other momentous occasion.

But what is it, exactly?  Sure, we’ve all heard of the classic names – such as Cristal Champagne – but what’s the difference between a bottle that might cost, say €30 and a bottle of the most expensive champagne?

Well, to understand this, we first need to have a little knowledge about what actually constitutes the name ‘champagne.’  After all, there are similar tipples, but to be allowed to carry this prestigious name, a sparkling wine has to adhere to some very strict criteria.

  • First and foremost is the place in which the grapes are grown.  Only those grown in the Champagne region of France can legally be called champagne.  This is an area in north-east France, with defined boundaries and different growing areas.
  • Secondly, the process in which the drink is made must conform to strict procedures.  This consists of a long list of requirements, including the type of grapes used, growing conditions, blending, storage and bottling.  Only those that meet this set of rules can eventually be packaged up and presented as a ‘bouteille de champagne.’

What makes the best champagne?

With over a hundred different champagne houses, and thousands of wine growers in the region, it can seem a little confusing as to what is the difference between the best champagne and a ‘cheap’ bottle (although cheap is relative – because you’ll rarely find a bottle for less than around €20, unless there’s a special promotion).

However, much in common with other wines and spirits made from grapes, the more expensive products are all down to the combination of raw products in the bottle.  All champagne, be it the best or the cheapest, is fermented twice.  The first fermentation turns the grapes into wine.  But it’s the second that is referred to as the ‘methode champenoise.’  At this point the wine is sealed into champagne bottles, along with sugar and yeast.  A chemical reaction takes place, and it’s during this second fermentation that the bubbles begin to appear.

In general, the longer this second ‘aging process,’ the better the quality will be.

However, there is a second point that has a huge relevance on the quality, and that’s the grape harvest.  Mother Nature being her usual fickle self, some years the harvest is better than others, therefore the quality of the wine will differ.  In exceptional years, the champagne produced will naturally be more expensive than that of lesser ones.  These are then labelled as vintage – or ‘millésimé.’  Naturally, these best champagnes are highly sought after, and whether sold as a single vintage or part of a blend, can command high prices – such as those seen with top brands like Cristal or Mumm champagne.

 

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