We all love to indulge in a little Champagne here and there. It’s Champagne, what more do you need to know to get on board with the bubbles. One of the most prestigious sparkling wines in the world, a combination of a cool, continental climate and chalky soils have provided a most favourable environment for growing grapes for sparkling wine! These conditions give delicate flavours while keeping high acidity. Please note that the grapes are not harvested ‘under-ripe’. The grapes are low in sugar and acidity with a cooler growing environment, however, combined with a normal length growing season, the grapes are still reaching physiological maturity with an ABV of 10 – 11%.
Champagne has over a little 86,000 acres planted over 319 villages with 14 sub-regions with 5 key districts. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the permitted grape varieties grown in Champagne with maximum yields of 10.4 tonnes/hectare. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne or just called the Comite Champagne for short, sets the harvest date, minimum potential alcohol and the amount of wine to be kept in reserve each year. Setting a date for harvest seems fairly simple right? Not in Champagne! They pick dates for each variety for each cru in each region. You can see a snapshot of the list for the region of Aube.
Their website is a great source for information for the studying student or just Champagne drinkers in general! https://www.champagne.fr
Here is a map of Champagne from Winefolly, highly recommend following her on Instagram, reading her blog and ordering her latest book! Such a great place for a beginner or expert to start!
Starting with the most northern region of Champagne, Montagne de Reims. Translates directly to “Mountain of Reims” it covers the ground between Reims and Epernay, between the Marne and Vesle Rivers. Consisting of high, forested areas the quality grapes are grown on the lower slopes of the mountains. Typical of Champagne, it’s loaded with chalk. Chalk is highly porous and acts as a reservoir that provides the vines with a steady supply of water even in the driest of growing seasons. The soils consist of granules of calcite formed from fragile shells of marine microorganisms. Holding the most Grand Cru sites than any other district, it’s famous for its Pinot Noir, plantings dominate at 40%, followed by 36% Meunier, and 24% Chardonnay. The region has cool nights with the cold air moving into the lower slopes and replaced by warm air that builds up during the day producing robust wines with crisp palates and a bright nose giving great structure to the final blend. The best villages are Ambonnay, Ay-Champagne, Bouzy, Verzenay and Verzy with 9 Grand Cru villages and 26 Premier Crus villages in the region.
Moving on to a larger subregion on the western border is Vallee de la Marne. Often the forgotten grape, Pinot Meunier is the king with plantings dominating at 66%. Lending fresh and fruitiness to blends, it is highly sought after by master blenders. Soils in this region include clay, sand, and composite rocks mostly because the area lies partly on the riverbanks of the Marne River. An area prone to frost, late-budding Pinot Meunier is well suited to this type of climate. The most famous village is one of the Grand Crus called Ay. Key Champagne houses that control vineyards in this village include Bollinger, Duval Leroy, Moët & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Piper Heidsieck, and Roederer. This village produces remarkable high-quality wines with exceptional body and delicate flavours. The other “Grand Cru” is Tours Sur Marne however only the Pinot Noir has been granted Grand Cru status where some confusion comes. Other notable villages to look out for are Mareuil-sur-Ay, Dizy, Ste-Gemme and Hautvillers. The infamous home of Dom Perignon where he was credited with inventing sparkling wine, while not quite true there is still a lot of history making this a leading village in the evolution of Champagne.
Continuing south into the Cote de Blancs. Home to Epernay, famous for the Avenue de Champagne. As the name suggests it is heavily planted with Chardonnay, around 97%. The chalk-covered ridge is where Chardonnay finds her finest expression, on eastern facing slopes resulting in high acid base wines. Highly sought after for a Blanc de Blanc base wine. With 6 Grand Cru villages in the region, famous villages include Avize, Cramant, Ogier and Mesnil sur Oger. Notably, all Grand Crus clustered together on the actual slope of the Cote de Blancs. Grapes from these villages are some of the most sought after for the entire appellation of Champagne. With an annual mean temperature of 10.5oC – the bare minimum required for a grape to ripen – the grapes add freshness and a delicate fruitiness to a blend or develop into an unrivalled floral, creamy texture of flavours such as nutty and biscuity if left the stand on its own.
Dropping to the south-west, we land in Cote de Sezanne. Known as a less distinguished continuation of the Cote de Blancs, there are no Grand Cru or Premier Cru villages and mostly planted with Chardonnay at 64% followed by 21% Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir. The main village here is Villeauxe-la-Grande. The soils consist of clays with alluvial silt soils with clay deposits peppered with chalk throughout the region. Slightly more humid here, the wines are more ‘New World’ in style. Fruitier, with more tropical notes and aromatic due to the south-east aspect of vineyards but lacking the finesse of the Cote de Blancs. Often used in blending of Non-Vintage Champagnes.
The final region is the farthest south and furthest away from the other subregions known as the Cote des Bar. The Seine and Aube Rivers run through the district. Being quite close to Chablis, the soils tend to be closer to clays than chalk, like the northern parts of Champagne. While patches of chalk can be found, the soil is dominated by limestones, calcareous clays and sands. This area mostly grows Pinot Noir, due to the ever so slight increase in warmth, the wine tends to be more aromatic and less acidic. Gaining some recognition, it is now famous for its small, independent growers, compared to the big houses of the north. With no Grand Cru’s or Premier Cru’s, the most important villages are Urville and Les Riceys. Urville houses the most famous producer, Drappier while Les Riceys is famous for its Rose des Riceys.