What Makes Champagne Real Champagne?

The Case For Real Champagne.

Typically my wife and I only drink what we have called Champagne for the celebration of new years. Just as the ball drops and the local clock strikes midnight ( unless we fall asleep and have to celebrate with the Californians) we crack the cork on the cold bubbly and toast to a great new year.

I must admit that in most years past we have not toasted with real champagne but rather a sparkling wine that is cheaper. ( I wonder if that impacts how the next year will treat us? Probably not..) Mostly this is because our tastes for wine tend to be very different. She likes a sweet wine and I like a dryer or even really dry wine. Since she always buys the new year’s bubbly, we end up with a sweet and cost effective bottle from Trader Joes.

In order for a Champagne to considered as real Champagne, according to the French, it must be produced and bottled in the region of Champagne, which encompasses the French towns of Reims and Épernay. 

In the US and other parts of the world you can buy what is labelled as Champagne ( for example California Champagne) but in fact comes from somewhere other than this region in France. I believe the label in this case must include the place of origin. Champagne has become a word like Kleenex to describe any type of sparkling wines.  However there have been no shortage of lawsuits over the perceived improper use of this word on a wine label.

Sparkling wines such as champagne and Prosecco ( Italian version I will talk about this later), contain carbon dioxide which is produced naturally from fermentation or force-injected later. To have this bubble effect, the wine is fermented twice, once in an open container to allow the carbon dioxide to escape into the air, and a second time in a sealed container, where the gas is caught and remains in the wine.

Sparkling wines that gain their carbonation from the traditional method of bottle fermentation are labelled “Bottle Fermented”, “Méthode Traditionelle”, or “Méthode Champenoise”. Champagne from the region of Champagne is produced only the Méthode Champenoise.

A bottle of Dom Perignon 1999 real champagne
A bottle of Dom Perignon 1999 real champagne

What Grapes Are Used To Make Real Champagne?

Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay are the primary types of grapes used in the production of almost all Champagne. There are some small back French Champagne makes that use pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane, and petit meslier grapes as well.

Champagne appellation law allows only grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of champagne.

The History of real Champagne.

Champagne became associated with royalty in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The leading manufacturers made efforts to associate their Champagnes with nobility and royalty through advertising and packaging, which led to popularity among the emerging middle class.

The oldest recorded sparkling wine from grapes in the Champagne region of France is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne in 1531.

In the 19th century Champagne was much sweeter than the Champagnes of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage before exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne was created for the British in 1876.

Dry to Sweet. How do you classify wines according to their sugar content?

In ascending order of sweetness, the classifications Brut for are extra dry (or extra sec), sec, demi-sec and doux. This applies not just to real Champagne or sparkling wines but for all wines.

So now you know all about what makes Champagne real Champagne and you can surprise you wino friends with your important wine trivia.