Every Champagne variety has its own qualities and advantages. Pinot Noir contributes good palate weight and darker, meaty aromas. Pinot Meunier gives great acidity and a particular fruitiness that shows most naturally in younger wines. Additionally, it buds later and ripens sooner than Pinot Noir, which makes it less susceptible to rot-inducing springtime rains and crop-damaging Fall frosts. Chardonnay is said to bring elegance and finesse into Champagnes, along with a particular creamy roundness and raised stone-fruit aromas.
The manufacturing process for Champagne is similar to that for different wines, but contains an extra (and critical) stage, during which another fermentation is started from the bottle by the addition of yeast and sugars. It's this that generates the carbon dioxide bubbles accountable for the pop and sparkle that are the symbols of Champagne.
Within this type of cool climate, the growing period is rarely hot enough to ripen grapes to the amounts necessary for regular winemaking. In temperate decades, Champagne's grapes nevertheless bear the trademark acidity of a marginal climate, and it was only the discovery of secondary fermentation that provided a wine style effective at harnessing -- and even adopting -- this tartness.
Even in this relatively consistent terroir, you will find variations in soils and climate which make various areas better suited to the requirements of the three primary grape varieties. The appropriately named Cote des Blancs-- and especially the Cote de Sezanne-- are where the best Chardonnay websites are found, while the Montagne de Reims and the Vallee de la Marne are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Champagne's particular combination of grape varieties didn't come about by design or choice. Once upon a time, a much bigger variety of varieties was used, but this has been whittled down and refined over time. As with so many French wines, it was that the Champagne region's terroir (especially the climate) which dictated which grape varieties could be grown in its vineyards. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are one of hardly any varieties capable of doing in northern France's cold, wet climate, so obviously they prevailed. Interestingly, Dom Perignon -- the monk wrongly credited with the introduction of sparkling wine -- is thought to have encouraged using black-skinned grapes over white. This information was granted on the premise that the wines produced from Pinot Noir were significantly less prone to re-fermentation, which had not yet come to be a controlled part of winemaking in Champagne.
Grand Cru Champagnes and Premier Cru Champagnes are those created from the area's very finest and highest-rated vineyards. But, branding is so important in Champagne that the Maison (manufacturer) that new names require priority over appellation names and these honorifics as Grand Cru and Premier Cru.
Based on exactly how a Champagne is made, can take any one of different kinds. The vital Champagne styles differ in their color, sweetness, base grape types, and whether they are the product of one vintage or a couple (Non-Vintage). The whites may be Blanc de Noirs (produced from black-skinned grapes), Blanc de Blancs (produced from green-skinned grapes) or simply plain Blanc (made from any combination of the allowed varieties). Pink Champagne Rosé is made by simply adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins. These types all come with varying degrees of sweetness -- maybe not necessarily the consequence of residual sugar, but as a result of accession of a dosage just before the wine is finally bottled.
Besides the climatic conditions of the particular classic and the features of the grape varieties, there's a third element from the distinctiveness of Champagne. The landscape that earned Champagne its title (it translates as "open countryside") undulates very gently over the white, calcareous soils of the Paris Basin. This famous chalk is distinct from the limestone soils of other French wine regions, being considerably finer-grained and much more porous. This looser structure means that its nutrient content is more easily absorbed by the vine roots, and it also provides exceptional drainage -- preventing the dangers of waterlogging. A additional benefit is that this permeability enables access to the water sources much below, boosting strong root growth and ensuring a constant water supply.
Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the principal grape varieties used to make Champagne-- a recipe used for sparkling wines throughout the world. It is a little-known actuality that four other varieties are also allowed to be used in Champagne and are still used today, albeit in tiny quantities. They are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane. All seven varieties continue to be used together in a minumum of one producer's Champagne; the Laherte Freres Champagne 7 is the most conspicuous example.
Most Champagne is sold with no vintage statement, which makes it "Non-Vintage" or NV. The main reason behind this is the variability from vintages which results in the marginal climate; by mixing vintages collectively, the effect of a bad year is lessened. In years of quality, however, lots of homes release a classic Champagne (millesimé in French) made solely from grapes harvested in the calendar year. These are typically designed for more bottle aging and therefore are made to higher quality specifications.
The first wines produced in Champagne -- more than a million decades ago now -- were unlike those we know today. They have been typically pink-hued still wines made mostly from black-skinned grapes. There was certainly nothing like the selection of styles we now enjoy.
Champagne is the name of the world's most famous sparkling wine, the appellation below which it is sold, and the French wine area it comes from. While it's been used to refer to amazing wines from all over the world -- a point of controversy and legal wrangling in recent decades -- Champagne is a lawfully controlled and restricted title.
All Champagne must spend at least 12 months aging on its lees - that the spent yeast cells from the second fermentation. An extended interval on lees past this can have a marked influence on the yeasty characteristics of the final wine. Non-vintage Champagnes must grow in bottle for a minimum of 15 months in complete before release (i.e. an extra 3 months after the yeast sediment is removed in the disgorgement) though in practice 2 to 3 years is a more typical figure. Vintage wines must spend 36 months in bottle before being sent to market, though most are released after 4 to 10 years.
Champagne's fame and achievement is, of course, the product of several complicated factors. And there are three important motives of which we can be reasonably certain. First, the all-important bubbles, making it stand out of less "exciting" wines. Secondly, the high prices that Champagne controls, which make it feel somewhat exclusive and unique. Third, two centuries of clever marketing to a ready and extremely receptive consumer base.
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