Champagne is the wine of choice for anyone hosting a special occasion. But what is it that makes this particular wine so special? How is it made and where does it come from? Find out below – and how you could visit the famous Champagne region…
Legend has it that Champagne was accidentally invented in the 1700s by Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk. He reportedly said to the other monks ‘Come quick, I am drinking stars!’, and the House of Möet & Chandon, from the Epernay village, takes ownership of his discovery and has named its most popular champagne after him.
Champagne, as you’ve probably heard, just isn’t Champagne if it isn’t actually from Champagne, France. Sparkling wines like Cava (Spain), Espumante (Portugal), Prosecco (Italy) or Methode Cap (South Africa) may look similar and even be manufactured in a similar way, but the name Champagne is reserved for wine made in the Champagne region. Around 90 minutes’ drive from Paris, Champagne’s cool temperatures and unique soil conditions make for the perfect grape-growing conditions.
Traditionally, the official Champagne region included the area around Rheims and Epernay, but today extends as far north as Burgundy. Blended under strictly regulated conditions, the Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes are the mighty three that are used in ‘la Methode Champenoise’ – the Champagne Method.
Once picked by hand, the grapes are crushed by barefoot grape-crushers (fun job!) and all the juice is collected and stored in steel vats, where it rests and ferments until it becomes a still wine. The next step is blending, a highly delicate process in which cellar masters blend wines to create the appropriate colour, smell and taste.
Once sugar and yeast are added, the wine ferments slowly for a second time, and after removal of sediment, and later yeast; the wine is eventually ready for sale. (Obviously this is a huge simplification of the process, but click here to read further!)
Of course, if you’re merely interested in drinking the stuff – which is far more fun anyway – visit the region and do as the locals do! Plan your next trip to France and be sure to include a stop in Champagne!