Champagne. Fizz. Bubbly. It’s all delicious.

Champagne’s bubbles of fizzy nectar are perfect for special celebrations. Or simply because there’s a Y in the day.

Quick Guide

Champagne

What is it?

Nectar of the Gods. Sorry, got carried away there. Champagne is a sparkling white (or rosé) wine of northeast France. Its international counterpart is simply known as sparkling wine, as the attributes of true Champagne are strictly governed and restricted to the French region that bears its name.

Where's it from?

Originally developed in the Champagne region of northeast France, sparkling wine – the international version of Champagne – is now produced around the globe. Australia in particular produces world class sparkling wine, some following the traditional méthode champenoise style of fermentations.

What does it taste like?

Soft and light, nuanced and smoky, sweet, crisp or dry, Champagne’s flavour depends on the grape and fermentation style used. Its only constant is that it’s bubbly, but the even the bubbles decrease over time.

Tip

When opening a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine, always twist the bottle, not the cork. Firstly, remove the foil (but not the wire). Then, holding the base of the bottle in one hand, grasp the cork in your other and twist the bottle – at an angle – until the cork comes out of its own accord.

Champagne History

If history is to be believed, Champagne should really be called Carcassone as it was here that sparkling wine was, allegedly, first invented in 1531. Benedictine monks at the time sealed their white wine in cork-stoppered flasks during the initial fermentation period, then undertook a second in-flask fermentation to produce the wine’s sparkling bubbles. As this style of wine making began to take off, another Benedictine monk from the Champagne region of France, Dom Perignon, began to introduce a series of enhancements designed to improve the production and quality of sparkling wine. 

During Perignon’s era in the mid 1600s, in-bottle fermented wines were prone to explode. ‘Refermentation’, which produces the wine’s famous bubbles, was an unstable process at best, a waiting time bomb at worst. Sometimes, under pressure, the cork would pop itself from the bottle, sometimes the bottle itself (and all bottles within its vicinity) would explode. Dom Perignon introduced numerous ‘rules’ including how high vines should be, what time of day grapes should be harvested and what type of grapes should be used to reduce refermentation disasters.
 
At around the same time, two events transpired to allow the cultivation and production of sparkling wine to become a growth industry. Firstly, an English scientist, Christopher Merret, discovered (and published a paper on) how to add sugar to a finished wine to create a second (bubbly) fermentation. Secondly, English glass producers discovered how to produce bottles that would withstand the pressures of second fermentation.
 
So we’ll keep this to ourselves shall we, but French champagne may not have been viable without English know how of the time.
 
Whatever its provenance, the wine that had been produced in the Champagne region since the 5th Century evolved into sparkling wine, and to this day is now revered for the distinct characteristics of the varietal.
 

 

Sparkling wine VS Champagne

Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are champagne. The term “champagne” has been trademarked by the French and is specific to wines produced within very strict criteria (many of these criteria originally detailed by Dom Perignon). To be called Champagne, a wine must:

  • Use grapes grown and harvested within the Champagne delimited area in France
  • Use only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes
  • Use the natural wine-making process of ‘Methode Champenoise’ (incorporating the natural yeast fermentation of the wine in the bottle) and
  • Be stored, in the bottle, for a minimum of 15 months prior to shipping.
There are a number of other, more technical, requirements such as the levels of permissible juice extraction and alcohol volume, the type of vines used and how many grapes may be yielded per hectare, all of which combine to make French Champagne truly unique and worthy of claiming the only title of Champagne.
 
But there are scores of international brands of sparkling wine that provide a delightfully delicious, bubbly alternative to French fizz. 
 
The Italians love their Prosecco, the Spanish their Cava, the Germans their Sekt. Even France – outside the Champagne region of course – produces sparkling wine known as Cremant.
 
Australian sparkling wine is produced across the country, with Tasmania leading the charge on méthode champenoise style wines. An Australian speciality, sparkling shiraz is also gaining worldwide acclaim as a stunning example of a new world take on a traditional varietal.

Champagne Flavour

When champagne production really took off in the mid 1800s, it was a much sweeter wine than we’re used to today. How ripe the grapes are, as well as how much additional sugar is introduced during the second fermentation process affects how sweet the wine tastes.
 
Today, the most common style of champagne is Brut, originally developed for the British in the mid-1800s. Sec or Demi-sec champagnes are towards the sweeter end of the spectrum.
 
In addition to sweetness levels, Champagne flavour is influenced by the type of grape used during its production. Blanc de blanc wine is made from 100% chardonnay grapes whilst blanc de noir is made from a mixture of pinot noir and pinot meunier.
 
The aromas and flavours of Champagne often incorporate fresh apples and pears, as well as nuts and fresh-baked bread, the latter thought to result from the yeast introduction during the wine’s second fermentation. In very general terms, it’s thought that the fruitier the palate, the more likely the wine is to be a new world sparkler. The nuttier and creamier the palate, the more likely it is to be an old world Champagne.
 
Finally, the wine’s temperature is crucial to allowing those complex aromas and flavours to become evident. As with all wines, the correct serving temperature varies according to the vintage. Mature (and vintage) champagne should be served at a reasonably warm 10°C, whilst younger fizz can be a little cooler, at around 8°C. Pop it into the fridge for 3-4 hours before opening, or into an ice bucket (with two thirds ice / one third water) for about 20 minutes.
 

 

Champane food Matching

Many bon vivants would consider champagne to be the perfect aperitif, to be served on its own as a pre-dinner drink or to accompany canapés. Others would advocate champagne as an accompaniment to entrees, main courses and even desserts. Others still (and we’re firmly in this camp) think champagne goes with absolutely everything – including wedding toasts, pre-dawn balloon flights, winning a Grand Prix and sunny Tuesday lunchtimes. Whatever, whenever, champagne is the perfect accompaniment.
 
When pairing with food, the safest rule of thumb is to avoid overly spicy, strong, sweet or sharp flavours and pair instead with simple, fresh, delicate or refined flavours.
 
Seafood is a natural partner – caviar, oysters, creamy scallops, fresh lobster and tempura prawns are ideal. Poultry – goose, duck, chicken, pheasant – are also happy to dine with champagne, particularly when served with a rich stuffing (e.g. foie gras), and lamb or beef also pair well, especially when served en croute, with a wine or cream sauce or simply roasted.
 
Even rich, creamy desserts pair well with champagne, particularly older vintages or even pink (rosé) champagne.
 

 

Champane Knowhow

Placing a silver spoon in an opened bottle of champagne to keep the fizz will result in ... a fizz-less bottle of bubbly. Only a champagne stopper will save those bubbles and will still only last for about 24 hours.
There are three primary styles of champagne glass; the tulip, the flute and the saucer (or coupe). Whilst the flute is most common, most producers would recommend the tulip as it condenses the wine’s aroma whilst allowing the bubbles room to move.
Only ever fill a champagne glass to little more than half full. This gives enough room to swirl the wine in the glass to release more flavours and those nose-tickling bubbles.
A magnum of champagne (1.5 litres) is twice the size of a standard bottle (750ml).
The size of the bubbles in a glass of Champagne are indicative of its quality. The finer the bubbles, the better the wine.
And there are believed to be approximately 49,000,000 bubbles in a bottle of bubbly.

 

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