Champagne 101 | Palate Club

Champagne 101

Hey Champagne fans, need a little bubbles 101? Champagne is one of those more tricky types of wines to understand, so here’s a quick rundown of a few styles of Champagne to keep a look out for to expand your palate and amp up your sparkling addiction!

We won’t go too much into detail about how to make Champagne, but rather we’ll focus on the different styles. Before we delve into those, let’s clarify a little about our favorite fizzy beverage-

First, not all sparkling wine is Champagne! Champagne is specifically made in the Champagne region of France. Lots of other sparkling wine gets called Champagne, but don’t get confused – the real deal is specifically and only from this part of France. California sparkling wine, Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, yes, they all are fun and delicious, but they are all wildly different from the genuine stuff that’s called Champagne.

Next, quality Champagne is typically made from a two-part fermentation process. First, grapes are pressed and made into a still white wine. Then, that wine is put into bottles with a little extra yeast and sugar and left to ferment again. That’s where the bubbles come from- and that’s called the “champagne method”. Lots of other bubbly wines (especially cheaper stuff) isn’t made like that (usually the wine is carbonated inside of a big pressurized tank and then filled into bottles. You’ll notice a big difference in the texture of the bubbles in those types of low-cost sparkling wines!

Third, Champagne is made from different grapes, the main three being Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. Yes, the last two grapes are red grapes, but why isn’t champagne red you ask? Well, Pinot Noir and Meunier have very thin skins, and all that color is just in the skin and not the juice. When the grapes are pressed, only white juice comes out. The red color in red wine will come from the skins sitting and soaking with the juice to leach out the colors. That won’t happen in champagne- they’ll press the grapes and throw the skin away immediately.

So let’s talk about three different types of Champagne! Typically, Champagne will fall into one of the following categories:

Non-vintage Champagne. This is the most prevalent style. You won’t see a year listed on the bottle. Most wines are made from a single harvest in a single year- but not with Champagne. It’s typically a blend of a few different years together. Some years are a lot better than others in this cold French region, but by using this blending process, they’re able to make consistent products every year.
Vintage Champagne. See a year on the bottle? Awesome, you’ve got vintage Champagne! These are required by law to be aged a minimum of three years before they are released, and a lot of producers won’t make Champagne every year- that cold weather means some years can be really crummy, but some years are so fantastic that they will make extra wine solely from that year. These tend to have a more complex flavor profile- especially due to the longer aging in the bottle before it’s sold.
Prestige Cuvee, also called “Tete de Cuvee” are super exclusive limited bottlings that almost every producer makes. This will be typically a bottle of vintage champagne aged for 7 years or longer, but some rare styles are aged 20 years or more in the bottle! Usually, these wines are made from the best grapes in the best years. They can be rare, expensive, and highly sought after. Some famous examples would be Cristal, which is the Prestige Cuvee of Louis Roederer, La Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot and Fleur de Champagne from Perrier-Jouet. These are a real treat to drink and are known for age-ability as well as their incredibly complex flavor profile.

There you have it- now get out there and drink some wine! A great idea would be to invite some friends over and get one bottle of each of these three styles and taste them side by side to see exactly how different they are. You might find you like one more than the other! Either way, you can’t go wrong with Champagne- there’s a type for everyone.

Cheers!

-MM

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