Although there are inevitably different versions as to the origins of champagne, the French will tell you that it was the French monk Dom Perignon who first produced the beverage back in 1697.
The region of Champagne covers over 80,000 acres of land, and it is home to more than 16,000 growers who produce more than 300 million bottles annually!
Before the bottle-popping and hedonism can begin, the region’s champagne producers create the bubbly beverage through a process similar to wine-making, with a few crucial exceptions.
It all starts with the grapes. Champagne is made using one or more of the following grape varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Like wine, the grape juice is then fermented. To give the Champagne its signature fizz, a second fermentation is allowed to happen once the mixture is inside the bottle, a traditional method referred to as the “méthode champenoise”.
In terms of flavor profile, Chardonnay grapes make champagne that is acidic and crisp, Pinot Noir grapes impart earthiness and intensity, and Pinot Meunier grapes lend body and richness to the final product. Most champagnes are made from a blend of grapes. Typically, one bottle of champagne will contain grapes harvested in different years.
Champagne that is made entirely from grapes harvested in the same year is the only variety that can become a “vintage”, and it must be aged in the bottle for a minimum of three years. However, these vintage champagnes only represent 1.3% of champagne production! The best vintages in the 21st century are 2000, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
It’s important to recognize that there are different styles with different levels of sweetness:
Brut Nature: Little or no sugar is added, containing less than three grams of sugar per liter.
Brut or Extra Brut: Brut is slightly sweeter, yet still dry and crisp on the palate. Containing between three and 12 grams of sugar per liter, this is the most popular style.
Extra Dry: Slightly sweeter than Brut, this style contains between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per liter.
Sec: Noticeably sweet, Sec-style champagnes contain between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per liter.
Demi-Sec: Sweeter than Sec, this one contains between 32 and 50 grams of sugar per liter.
Doux: This variety is the sweetest of the bunch, containing more than 50 grams of sugar per liter.
Many people wonder what it is that makes Champagne so expensive. There are several factors contributing to its high price, including the cost of the high-quality grapes used in champagne, the time it takes to harvest the grapes by hand (machines are forbidden in Champagne making), high labor costs, high cost of land, and the time needed for champagnes double aging process.
If you don’t already know which champagne you like, don’t fret: We will help you find your favorites! We will take you to some of the bigger champagne houses such as Taittinger, Ruinart, and Moet & Chandon, as well as some family-run houses. Each house produces a variety of styles and sweetness levels, so you are sure to find champagne to please you at each stop!