The art of champagne making
Choosing a bottle of French champagne is never easy for the amateur who wants to offer or enjoy a bottle without having specific knowledge of the vintage wines, the terroirs, the grape varieties or the production techniques. Champagne is a big part of French art of living.
This guide about the art of champagne making allows you to familiarize yourself with the world of champagne, which is not necessarily the same as for wine. We will help you make an informed choice, in order for you to have the best French art of living experience. Champagne is part of French traditions.
In this second part of our series on champagne (first part here), we will cover everything about the art of champagne making to help you understand what is everything behind this famous fizzy drink.
If all the wines of Champagne can be described as festive, joyful and elegant, they are far from being all alike. The Champagne appellation is unanimous and is a guarantee of trust. The proof is that it is not even necessary to indicate “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (Designation of Origin and the Geographical Indication) on a bottle of French champagne. A champagne is a champagne.
But the richness of French champagne does not end there. Far from being standardized, French champagnes come in many aromatic profiles. There is a French champagne for every occasion and an occasion for every champagne. Let’s explore the art of champagne making. Do you know the many facets of this legendary sparkling wine?
What are the different grapes of French champagne?
The three main grape varieties used in the production of a French champagne are as follows:
Chardonnay: the noble grape variety of the region, which gives finesse and delicacy to Champagne.
Pinot Noir: which brings character and fruitiness to the wines.
Pinot Meunier: which brings fruitiness and roundness to the wines.
How is champagne made ?
The appearance of effervescence in a wine is a natural phenomenon. The bubbles of champagne or any sparkling drink are due to the presence of CO². However, CO² is naturally created by the action of yeasts during fermentation.
It is therefore possible to create a sparkling wine directly, using fermentation in an airtight tank, or in two stages, by generating a second fermentation on a still wine.
This is particularly the case with Champagne wines, which owe their reputation to their know-how in the field of this second fermentation.
The different stages of the art of champagne making:
After the harvest (manual picking because the harvesting machine is prohibited), the grapes are gathered in batches of 4000 kg and quickly pressed in three successive phases. The first ten 205-liter pieces that flow are called “cuvée” (cuvee). The “marc” is then subjected to a second pressing which makes it possible to obtain 410 liters of “première taille” (first size). The third and final pressing of the “marc” gives 205 liters of “seconde taille”(second size), intended for the sub-brands because the quality drops.
First fermentation (vinification)
The grape musts are vinified, classically as for a still white wine (which does not sparkle) and sleep for a few months in tanks.
The wines of different grape varieties and vintages are then tasted and assembled with wines from previous vintages called “vins de réserve” (reserve wines) or sometimes with old wines, so that the result is harmonious and corresponds to the taste sought by the brand. The quality and character of the wines are thus consistent and their style very assertive.
Pulling or “prise de mousse” (foam creation)
The wines are then bottled from the spring following the harvest. Before bottling, the drawing is carried out by adding the tirage liqueur to the cuvée: a mixture of wine, sugar (24 g per bottle) and yeasts. The yeasts will transform the sugar into alcohol and produce carbon dioxide responsible for the effervescence and pressure.
Second fermentation (aging on slats)
This second fermentation in the bottle takes place slowly in the cellar at low temperature (11 ° C) and lasts from six weeks to two months. The bottles are then stored on slats horizontally, for a minimum of fifteen months for “brut” (raw) without years and at least three years for vintages.
After at least one year (three years for vintage cuvees), the bottles are disgorged with ice, which is purged of deposits due to the second fermentation for four to six weeks. They are tilted gradually and stirred slightly to bring down the lees in the neck of the bottles against the cork.
Once the impurities are expelled, the dosage liquor is added by melting cane sugar in wine and ratafia. Depending on its sugar concentration, the champagne will be raw, dry, medium-dry … All that remains is to cap the bottles again, muzzle them and dress them before keeping them for about two to three months in the cellar.
After that, here you go, you have a beautifully made beverage. However, champagne is categorized in different “crus”. Here is what makes them different from one to another.
The different “crus” for French champagne:
Cru sans année (without year)
This is a French champagne made from different grape varieties, years and regions to keep the typical taste of the brand as constant as possible. Hence the importance of the dosage, signature of the brand. Usually mixing a third of Chardonnay, a third of Pinot Noir and a third of Pinot Meunier, it is aged for 18 months in the cellar before being put on sale.
Composed exclusively of grapes from the same year, it combines grape varieties and regions, and must have aged for at least three years in the cellar. Its taste can therefore vary from one vintage to another. According to the brands, only the good years are vintage.
French Champagne coming from the only 100% classified communes, those with the best terroirs.
French Champagne from municipalities with a classification between 90 and 99%.
Cuvée spéciale, Brut réservé, Brut premier, Grande Réserve
These terms have no regulatory significance. They correspond to a purely commercial approach of the big houses.
Blanc de blancs (White of whites)
French Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes (white grape with white juice). The taste is generally finer and the price higher.
Blanc de noirs (White of blacks)
French White champagne, more robust, made from black grapes with white juice (pinot noir and pinot meunier).
It is obtained by adding a red wine from the region (usually Bouzy) to ordinary champagne, or by letting the skin of the Pinots macerate for a time during vinification.
Brut, sec, demi-sec (Raw, dry or semi-dry)
Almost all champagnes are raw. To deserve this designation, they must not contain more than 15 g of sugar (preferably cane or old wine) per liter. The proportions are 17 to 35 g / liter for the dry and 33 to 50 g / liter for the semi-dry. A sweet champagne will contain more than 50 g / liter.
The status of the bottler
In order to choose the correct French champagne for you, now that you know a bit more about the art of champagne making, it is important to know more about the status of the bottler. It will give you crucial information about your French champagne.
Harvesting-handling. cultivates his vines, develops his champagne and sells it.
Harvester-cooperator. sells its vinified champagne to the cooperative.
Trader-manipulator. Buy his grapes to make his champagne.
Handling cooperative. Cellar which markets its wine.
Society of harvesters. grouping of producers under a common brand.
Buyer’s mark. merchant who sells champagne from a third party.
We hope you liked learning about the art of champagne making. It is a true representation of the beautiful French style and French art of living. The champagne goes very well with French cheese. To learn more about this subject, here is the following part.
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