For many champagne is connected with popping a bottle on December 31st. It’s a celebratory drink which has made appearances at coronations of kings and launching of ships and nowadays also at sporting events where bubbly spraying accompany victories.
But what exactly is champagne other than a delicious effervescent?
For a sparkling wine to be called champagne there are 3 requirements to meet.
First of all it needs to be produced in the La Champagne – a north eastern region of France with the grapes cultivated within the appellation. Second of all it must be made only from the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or Chardonnay varieties. Other approved varietals are the white Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris – together less than 0.3% of plantings. And third of all – true champagne has to become carbonated by undergoing the fermentation twice: once in barrels or tanks and again in bottles – a process known as méthode champenoise in Champagne and méthode traditionelle outside of the appellation.
Champagne starts off as a still wine. The grapes are harvested, pressed, and allowed to undergo a primary fermentation usually in stainless steel tanks but some producers ferment their wines in wood. The yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide along with other by-products that contribute to the characteristics of the wine.
After artfully balancing the right proportions of varieties and vintages during blending (assemblage), the wine is bottled where the second alcoholic fermentation (Prise de Mousse) occurs and it is induced by adding several grams of sugar and yeast. Bottles are closed with crown caps. This step will take about 3 months.
When the second fermentation is finished a sludge of dead yeast cells will precipitate. Most hand-craft producers will leave the bottles to age on the lees for a minimum of 18 or more months for non-vintage and 36 months for the vintage Champagne. Some top bottlings are aged 10+ years before release. To remove the lees, the bottles are slowly turned and tilted at increasing angles until all of the sediment collects in the neck of the bottle. Done manually, this process called Rémouage takes around 21 days but by using mechanical gyro-palettes it can be done in a day or so.
For disgorging (dégorgement) the bottles are placed in a solution of freezing brine to congeal the yeast sediment along with the first inch of liquid in the neck. The cap is removed and the ice is forced out by the pressure of the CO2. Some producers do this process manually.
Just before corking, depending on the acidity of the blend and producers’ preferences a dosage of Liqueur d’Expédition is added – a slurry of brandy or wine and cane sugar – that determines the level of sweetness in the champagne. From less than 3 grams per litre of sugar for Brut Zero (Brut Nature) to over 50 g/l for Doux.
After this intricate, time-consuming and labour- intensive process the finished product contains between 40 million and 250 million of CO2 bubbles per bottle – responsible for the prestigious fizzy sensation that help gives the region of Champagne the world wide recognition.
If you think we’ve missed anything in the process of producing champagne or would like to add any additional information, please feel free to add a comment below!
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3 responses to “So How is Champagne Made Exactly?”
Hello fellow champagne fans!
Two quick comments concerning this fine article:
Riddling by gyro palettes is a one week process. No producer
Would ever think to speed things up as to riddle in one day.
As for cognac in the liqueur d’expédition this practice has fallen out of
Favor and very rarely ever used by top producers as the flavor from the doseage would be too prononced. Thank you all for your support of the world’s greatest sparkling wine, Champagne.