Wine Tasting Club – The Art of Champagne

By / Wine + Drinks / October 2nd, 2009 / 2

There’s only one rule you need to remember: all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.

From the region of Champagne in France, just east of Paris, known for its chalky soil and cooler climate, comes this revered bubbly. Champagne is arguably the best of the sparkling wines. Why this might be so probably has something to do with the fact that it’s usually more flavourful, complex and ageworthy than any other sparkling wine. Champagne makers will go so far as to suggest that the quality of their product is a direct result of the terroir. And of course, the “Champagne method” is also recognized as the superior one for bubblies.

The cost of this tipple can sometimes belie its thirst-quenching capabilities. It’s often been said (and I’ll say it again): Champagne goes with pretty much anything, anytime. It tastes biscuity and yeasty. Despite the cost, it’s a good idea to keep a few bottles of the real McCoy on hand to enjoy as you will.

Here are the basic facts. There are three grapes that take up the vineyard real estate in Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each one of these varietals results in a vintage product that showcases its own particular aromas and flavours.

Then there are styles of Champagne.

• Blanc de blancs is only made with Chardonnay

• Blanc de noirs is made with Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier

• Pink Champagne is made using 100% Pinot Noir or with a small amount of still red wine added to a blend.

• Brut is very dry, but not the driest – that would be brut sauvage

• Extra Dry is actually less dry than Brut

• Dry is pretty sweet (confused yet?)


Champagne is made using the champagne method (méthode champenois or méthode traditionelle, if you want to be precise). The term refers to a 5-step process.

1. Begin the first fermentation by adding yeast and sugar to the wine.

2. Let the wine ferment a minimum of 15 months.

3. While the wine is maturing, the bottles are upended and riddled (given a quarter turn every day) to force sediment down into the neck of the bottle.

4. Dip the neck of each bottle in a liquid nitrogen solution to freeze the plug and about an inch of wine that contains the sediment. The built-up pressure inside the bottle shoots out the plug.

5. Top the Champagne with still wine and a sugar solution. The sweetness of that sugar solution determines the dryness (or lack thereof) of the final product.

Give these a try. The following three Champagnes were all highly rated by the Tidings tasting team. Check out the Buying Guide in every issue for more great wine, spirit and beer reviews.

• Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millénaires 1995 ($175)

• Piper-Heisieck Rosé Sauvage N/V ($76)

• Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve N/V ($60)

Coming up later this month: cooking with Champagne

Next month: L’Acadie


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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