Wine 30: Champagne

With the new year kicking off, I’m sure many of you have found a good excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly. And even if you don’t have a specific reason, bubbly is always a good idea (and actually pairs well with just about any food)!

Champagne is synonymous with sparkling wines, but in order to truly be called “Champagne,” this wine must be made in the Champagne region of France. Anything made outside of it cannot legally be called Champagne…but there is a bit of a loophole.

Without getting too in the weeds, let me summarize:

Back in the day, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by many countries, and in this treaty, there was a specific article that said any country who signed this treaty would agree that they would not call any sparkling wines Champagne. This was mostly to make sure those Germans didn’t try to take advantage of the fact that during World War I, much of France’s vineyards in this wine region were demolished or severely damaged, and start producing a wine called Champagne. Anyone who signed the treaty, could not produce sparkling wines by that name. But…drum roll, please…the US didn’t sign the treaty which wasn’t a huge deal to France at the time, because Prohibition was enacted in the US, so France was like, “It’s cool, we’re not worried about them.” But then Prohibition ended, and the winemakers of America started slapping Champagne on their wine labels. Much more recently, however, there was an agreement between the US and France that no new wines could be labeled as Champagne, but if the American wines had previously been produced under the name of Champagne, they could continue to be labeled as such. That’s why you still may see some American Champagnes on the shelves of your wine aisles which come from some of the older wine houses of the states. Fun fact, no?

Now, with many wines we’ve looked into via this blog, a varietal’s name is typically how the wine is referred to, except in some rare instances (eg, pinot blanc/Pinot Bianco, garganega/Soave, etc.). Champagne is one of those cases, as it is most commonly made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, though there are many other grapes allowed to be in this style of wine. Each of the varietals allowed in Champagne deserves its own post, so I don’t really want to get too in the weeds. So if you’re interested, just check out this article from Guild Somm, which is an organization of sommeliers and other wine professionals who work to maintain the integrity of wine education.

What makes Champagne even more unique is the method used to make it: méthode champenoise, also known as the traditional method. The wines go through an initial fermentation, just like any other wine. But after that initial fermentation the grapes are blended – if combining multiple varietals – and then a small amount of yeast and sugar (and possibly a little extra wine) are added to this concoction, which is then bottled. The added yeast and sugar are what fuel the second fermentation which, for this particular method, must happen in the bottle. During second fermentation, carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, which is what produces the fizziness of the wine. The bottles are tilted on an angle, slowly, which allows the lees (or dead yeast particles) to slip into the bottle’s neck. In order to remove the dead yeast, the neck of the bottle is frozen, the bottle opened and the ice cube, if you will, extracted. This is a process called “disgorging.” Then, a small mixture – called liqueur de tirage – of wine and possibly sugar are added before it’s bottled, depending on where on the spectrum of brut nature and doux this wine will fall. This method differs from the “tank” method, which is used for Prosecco and Lambrusco.

For my other wine endeavor – the podcast – we paired the Bollinger Special Cuvée with an episode. I found this bottle for just under $54, which is a steal compared to some of the other prices I saw, reaching into the $60’s.


Appearance: A pale straw color with the tiniest bubbles. Admittedly, this was probably the wrong flute to use in order to get the full effect as compared to a smooth glass.

Nose: The bubbles tickled my nose, and aside from a very soft pear smell, I didn’t really pick up much on the nose. I partially blame the vessel choice – this champagne flute, as beautiful as it is and as much as I love it, isn’t designed to keep bubbles in. When you drink a sparkling wine, having a narrow glass that slightly curves in at the rim is ideal, that way it traps the aromas, but also traps the bubbles because it has less surface area and a longer distance to travel.

Taste: For someone who doesn’t like pear, this was about the only way you’d get me to partake in the fruit! I picked up a crisp, refreshing pear taste that was delightful, as I don’t like the texture of the fruit itself, while having a slightly yeast-like tertiary flavor.

Overall: Listen, I love me some sparkling wine, and this was for sure a treat. I’d say it’s well worth the dollars, although not something I’d necessarily drink on my own. Day-old sparkling wines just don’t have the same zing as when they’re freshly opened.

Champagne and other sparklings pair extremely well with a variety of foods: salty, spicy, sweet, creamy – you name it, you bet this style of wine will be a great accompaniment! Great by itself, with appetizers, a main course, or even dessert, sparkling wine literally is always in fashion. I even ordered a Cava (Spain’s sparkling wine) with a French Dip while out to dinner for a friend’s birthday!

It is still my goal to use a saber to open a bottle of champagne, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another day. 😉 Again, this wine is definitely more costly than my typical wine budget, but is worth the splurge for an occasion. If you’re curious about what the pricing of Champagnes and other sparkling wines may mean, or have a particular budget you want to stick to, I’d suggest taking a peek at Wine Folly’s article that may help you figure out which of these wines to buy!

Wishing you the best in 2019! Happy drinking!


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