Getting to grips with Champagne – a primer

Aug 22, 13 Getting to grips with Champagne – a primer

I love Champagne and it is one of the most popular high-end drinks on the market with people across the globe enjoying this bubbly beverage. French law states that, in order to be called champagne, drinks must be produced in designated areas within the Champagne region of the country and according to strict standards and processes. Located in the north-east of the nation, Champagne has been known for its sparkling wines for hundreds of years and the towns of Reims and Épernay are at the epicentre of the industry.

Many of the most famous champagne houses are located in these areas. Certain big brands have achieved renown around the world, including the likes of Taittinger and Moët & Chandon. These producers tend to age their wines for several years and then blend them to create a consistent house style that people recognise. Each producer has its own technique when it comes to creating these bottled delights and this formula is passed down from generation to generation.

Champagne at 35,000 ft, always welcome

Champagne at 35,000 ft, always welcome

It is also worth noting that, as well as the major international players, there are plenty of smaller producers in operation. In fact, much of the region’s ‘liquid gold’ is made by these less well-known vignerons, or wine producers. In total, there are nearly 5,000 small-scale houses creating champagne.

pinot meunier

pinot meunier

In order to qualify as champagne, beverages must be made from certain grape varieties and the three primary grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Other grapes used include the Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc, but these make up a tiny proportion of current production.

Those with a real passion for champagne can make trips to the home of the beverage and see the various houses in operation. For example, they can head to the headquarters of Taittinger just over a kilometre south-east of Reims centre. There, they can enjoy a presentation on the champagne making process. Enthusiasts can also travel to fellow industry giant Moët & Chandon, which I have visited, where they can walk through the house’s wine cellars. These are located ten to 30 metres below the chalky soil of Epernay and are the largest of their kind within the Champagne region. Regular tours are available and guests can enjoy tastings too.

cellar carved out of the limestone

cellar carved out of the chalk

Whether people choose to splash out on the finest bottles of Taittinger and Moët & Chandon or opt for more economical champagnes, there are plenty of occasions to enjoy this sophisticated fizz. For example, lots of people opt to serve the drink to see in New Year. Champagne has a celebratory and luxurious quality, making it perfect for special events from weddings to christenings.

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