5 + 1 tips for appreciating Champagne

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Champagne is perhaps the most famous and unique wine in the world. This sparkling drink is associated with luxury and celebration. Yet, how often do we give any thought to what makes it so unique and why so many seek to imitate its dazzle?

Champagne

The terroir

Champagne is one of the most northerly wine-producing regions in the world. It is blessed with a unique combination of soils and climate that are particularly beneficial for high-quality sparkling wine. Its cool climate means that the grapes have natural high acidity, making them perfect for fizz. Its chalk, marl and limestone soils deliver specific nutrients to the vines giving them particular mineral flavours. Moreover, both maritime and continental influences create numerous microclimates where different varieties can be grown.

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne
Larmandier-Bernier Champagne

The Champagne varieties

Champagne’s three key varieties all contribute specific characteristics to its wines. Chardonnay contributes finesse and elegance as well as high acidity. Pinot Noir, the most planted variety, brings character and complexity, and adds body, structure and red fruit flavours. Pinot Meunier’s calling card is softness and fruitiness. It is often found in non-vintage blends, making them more approachable earlier.

Blending

Champagne is generally a blended wine. Many wines are blends of several varieties, vintages and terroirs. Non-vintage wines will contain a proportion of reserve wines to add complexity and maintain house style. Vintage wines, although only from one year, are likely to be blends of different top parcels, perhaps different varieties and maybe even a proportion of oak-aged wines to add additional complexity. Rosé Champagne is a blend of white and red wines, the only wine in the EU permitted to do so to produce rosé.

Second fermentation in bottle

Champagne’s real magic occurs as its base wine undergoes the mysterious process of second fermentation in bottle and ageing on lees. This is when the sparkle is created. Additional sugar and yeast are added to the wine and as it ferments again, the bubbles are trapped in the bottle, creating the fizz we all love. However, as the yeast dies and falls to the bottom, it is known as lees. The lees interact with the wine, creating the toast, brioche and nutty notes we so closely associate with Champagne. The longer this time on lees, the more intense and complex these notes will be.

Champagne Riddling

Impeccable balance

All the above combine to create the uniquely impeccable balance we appreciate in Champagne. The complex combination of fruit, minerality, toasty autolytic notes, delicate bubbles and refreshing acidity. There is only one more thing required to ensure that perfection and that is the dosage, or the addition of sweetness prior to bottling. This ensures that Champagne’s naturally high acidity is tamed and rounded, ensuring perfection.

The right glass

The only thing left to ensure that you best appreciate Champagne’s uniqueness is to enjoy your Champagne from the right glass. Whether it be a white wine glass to appreciate a Champagne’s fruit and vinosity or a flute to enjoy its classic bubbles. Why not experiment to find the right one on 28 October, International Champagne Day.

These are our Staff’s picks:

Averaging 33 years of age, Larmandier-Bernier’s 15 hectares of vineyards lie on the spectacular terroirs of the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, a 1er cru village, as well as the Grand Crus Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Avize. According to Pierre and Sophie Larmandier, “the creation of a great Champagne, like the creation of any great wine, begins in the vineyard.” This philosophy is why they manage their vineyards biodynamically, harvesting their grapes manually at optimal ripeness to produce extraordinary expressions of each terroir. Fermentations using natural yeasts in a mixture of stainless steel vats, wooden casks and barrels, together with long, slow ageing at either Brut Nature (0 g/l) or Extra Brut (2-5 g/l) allows for the clearest of expressions.