On the blogby Alfred
December 3 2019

Introduction to champagne

by Sébastien Légasse

Making a sparkling wine requires a grape with different characteristics than the one required to make a still wine. It must be less sweet and it has to have a high level of acidity. To achieve this, you will understand that cooler climates is what is mostly aimed for and also by not waiting for the berries to reach full maturity. A grape must have a slow maturation process in order to develop its aromas and a cool climate allows precisely this process to happen, which would not be as efficient in a warm climate. Red grape varieties are used without issues, but skin contact with the juice is minimized so as not to add color or tannins.  There are seven authorized varietals, but Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier account for 99.7% of the total production.  

The vast majority of the grapes are used the same year as the harvest, but some of them can be kept as reserve wine for use in future blends. This leads me to make the distinction between non-vintaged and vintage champagnes. The first category is a blend of vintages, it is a way of obtaining a product that is constant from one year to the next, usually entry-level products that are the signature of producers. You will also notice the absence of the vintage on the label. It is a champagne that is ready to drink and will not age in your cellar. As for vintage champagne, which is more the exception than the norm, the year of harvest appears on the label. This ensures that at least 85% of the grapes used originate from this vintage and these vintage champagnes are only produced when the quality of the year is worth mentioning. These can be preserved, in optimal conditions, to follow their evolution.

To make a champagne, the traditional or champenoise method is used. Simply put, they start by making a white wine, with a maximum of 11% alcohol. Then they can proceed to a blend of crus, grape varietals or vintages. The next step is the second fermentation in the bottle with the addition of yeast and sugar, called tirage liqueur. The yeasts consume sugar and then generate alcohol and carbon dioxide (bubbles!). The bottles will then stay for a minimum of 15 months for non-vintaged champagnes and 36 months for vintaged champagnes. This step allows the yeasts to blend in and, thus, slowly bring characteristic aromas to the wine. The next step is the “stirring” to slide the sediments present in the bottle.  Historically, the human hand was used, rotating the bottles on desks, requiring 25 manipulations over six weeks. This is still done for some rare vintages but, otherwise, the use of a gyro-pallet allows us to obtain the same result mechanically in only one week! The sediment is then expelled by freezing the neck and then opening the bottle. The little amount of liquid lost is replaced by an expedition liqueur, a mixture of cane sugar dissolved in wine, which determines the sweetness of the champagne, from raw nature (zero dosage) to sweet, for the sweetest ones.


Here are some champagne suggestions:

 

Tribaut Schloesser Blanc de Chardonnay Brut

Champagne, 750 ml

Code SAQ : 12398491  | Regular price : 38,50 $

 

Drappier Brut Nature Pinot Noir Zéro Dosage

Champagne, 750 ml

Code SAQ : 11127234  | Regular price : 50,75 $

 

Bollinger La Grande Année Brut 2007

Champagne, 750 ml

Code SAQ : 00145169  | Regular price : 187,25 $

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