10 things you didn’t know about Champagne

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1. Every Champagne is a sparkling wine

But not every sparkling wine is Champagne.

To be called Champagne the grapes must be grown and produced within the boundaries of Champagne in France and under restricted rules of yields and vinification. The combination of those rules with cool climate, chalky soils, professional expertise, vine growing and wine making history make the best Champagnes, unlike any other sparkling wine in the world.

Other regions produce sparkling wines of quality and distinction, including fresh and aromatic Proseccos from the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the Northwest of Italy, which are made from the Glera grape; rich, balanced Franciacorta from Lombardy made as Champagne with Pinot Bianco substituting Pinot Meunier which gives the wines a different twist; and dry, complex and elegant Cavas made in Penedés in Spain from native varieties Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo. There are many other sparkling wines made from the Traditional Method in places such as Tasmania, Tumbarumba, England, Western USA, to name a few.

2. Champagne is wine

It is sealed by cork so it could have faults, such as oxidisation or cork taint. Like wine, it is important to taste Champagne before drinking it.

Cork taint is caused by a chemical compound know as TCA which can infect natural corks. ‘Corked’ wines have usually undesirable mouldy, musty notes as well as the characteristics mentioned above.

Oxidised wines are spoiled by excessive contact with oxygen due to poor cellaring conditions, or a fault in the bottle seal. These wines might present notes reminiscent of some fortified wines, but in a more unpleasant manner.

Both faults are caused by different agents but both spoil wines by diminishing fruit flavours, flattening the palate (lack of freshness) and shortening the aftertaste.

3. Do not drink it ice cold

Like wine, if Champagne is over-chilled the flavours are muted. To bring out its best characteristics, it should be drunk at about 8-10 degrees, and might be served a little colder on a warm day.

4. Despite most Champagne being white, red grape varieties are used in its production

Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier are the reds, while the white variety is Chardonnay. It’s usually made from a blend of the three grape varieties. If it’s made just from Chardonnay grapes, it’s called Blanc de Blancs (white wine made from white grapes) and it’s called Blanc de Noirs (white wine from black grapes) if it’s made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.

5. Other grape varieties are allowed

But they represent only 0.3% of the plantings.

Drappier is a house that uses some of those varieties in the unique Blanc de Blancs called ‘Quattuor’; made of Chardonnay, Arbane, Petit Meslier and Blanc Vrai.

Moutard makes two vintage champagne from those varieties; the ‘Vieilles Vignes’ from the Arbane grape and the ‘Cuvée 6 Cépages’ made from Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Duval Leroy has created the Authentis Brut Petit Meslier, which is a barrel-fermented Vintage Champagne from Petit Meslier.

6. The name “Champagne” does not guarantee quality

There are good and bad Champagne producers, just as there are good and bad wine producers. Sometimes you may be better off buying a good, local, sparkling wine of similar value.

You’ll find a good non-vintage sparkling wine for between $25 and $35. Above that price range (and entering Champagne pricing territory) vintage sparkling wines are the go. Wines from House of Arras, Stefano Lubiana, Jansz, Pirie, Chandon, Quartz Reef and Deutz Marlborough (the last two from New Zealand) are great options, to name a few.

Col Di Manza Prosecco ‘Rive de Ogliano‘, Cava from Raventos i Blanc and Franciacorta from Bellavista are all well worth a try.

7. Don’t use Coupes

They may look good, especially on a Kardashian, but the wide mouth means that the characteristic bubbles and aroma will dissipate too quickly. Keep you coupe – according to legend, shaped from Marie Antoinette’s breast – for cocktails.

8. Do not chill Champagne glasses

The condensation inside the glasses will dissipate the bubbles at a quicker rate.

9. Not all Champagne is kept under cork

Some producers use diam, which is a composite made out of granulated natural cork as well as other microscopic particles, that has been treated to eliminate TCA (see above) and then bounded together in the shape of a cork. Crown seals are used by some producers of sparkling wines (eg. Chandon in Australia), but not in Champagne.

10. There is a Champagne for every occasion

It works as an aperitif, with an array of different types of food and desserts. Like any good wine there is always an excuse to drink Champagne.

Non-vintage: The basic, house blend of every champagne producer and it is wildly variable in quality and style. Producers such as Ruinart and Agrapart are more delicate, with crisp acidity (using more Chardonnay and oxygen protective wine making) while others like Bollinger and Egly-Ouriet created richer, fuller wines due either barrel fermentation and/or greater use of black grapes.

Vintage: A more expensive blend made exclusively from grapes grown in that year, released around six years old and usually superior to non-vintage and worth the premium price.

Prestige or Luxury Cuvée: The top of the range, often packaged in a fancy bottle, usually vintage dated, released more than 10 years after vintage and always very expensive!

Some examples are Dom Pérignon, Krug, Louis Roederer Cristal, Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires, Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, TaittingerComtes de Champagne, Ruinart Dom Ruinart.

Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs as mentioned above.

Rosé: usually a fruitier style and made by the majority of houses by blending still red and still white wines before the fermentation in bottle.

Brut: Dry style with less than 12g/l of residual sugar.

Extra-Brut, Pure or Zero Dosage are bone dry (less than 6g/l) and have very little or no dosage added to them.

Demi-sec or Rich: Champagnes sweeter than the normal Brut (more than 20g/l of RS).

Interestingly enough Extra-Sec (meaning extra dry) is sweeter then Brut with 12 to 20g/l of residual sugar!

* Gustavo Kroneis is head sommelier of the Urban Purveyor Group.

To mark Global Champagne Day on Friday, 23 October, Sake Restaurant & Bar in Sydney is offering a lunch special of a salmon tasting plate and a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose for $40, while Ananas Bar & Brasserie has a two-course express lunch, including a glass of champagne for $50.

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