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A brief guide to Champagne

A brief guide to Champagne
10 August 2015

Today, Champagne is more popular than ever before, but its history has followed a rich and varied course. Made in the eponymous northeast region of France, Champagne emerged as a sparkling wine in the mid-17th century. The region’s short growing season and cold climate meant that the wine had to referment in the bottle, producing the carbonic gas. But the bubbles were not desired – they were seen as a symptom of bad wine-making. Due to its propensity to explode in the cellars, Champagne became known colloquially as ‘the devil’s wine’. Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon tried hard to remove the natural fizz, but his efforts instead went on to aid Champagne production for centuries.

For the next three hundred years, Champagne was the drink of luxury in the royal courts of France. The 18th century saw the real commercialisation of the drink. Wine merchants appeared, royal ordinances were passed, and very quickly Champagne became one of France’s most prestigious exports. Soon aristocratic circles across England and Europe were able to enjoy the drink. History has tried hard to knock back the Champagne industry – through countless wars and revolutions – but today it flows more freely than ever.

Champagne Glossary

Balthazar A 12-litre bottle, holding 16 standard bottles of champagne

Blanc de Blancs Champagne produced only with white grapes, almost always meaning that it’s 100% chardonnay

Blanc de Noirs Champagne produced only with red grapes. It is 100% pinot noir, 100% pinot meunier, or a mix of both.

Dosage The adding of sugar to champagne after disgorgement, normally through a solution of cane or beet sugar and wine. The dosage counteracts the high acidity of Champagne, and helps with the aging process. The extent of dosage determines the category of champagne.

Disgorgement The removal of yeast sediments from the bottle after the fermentation process. Sediment is collected at the bottleneck through riddling.

Cuvée A blend of wines. In Champagne, its specific meaning is the first 2,050 liters of juice from a 4,000-kilogram press – the best part of the pressing.

Coeur de Cuvée "The heart of the first pressing"; the best-quality portion of juice from the middle of the pressing.

Doux The sweetest kind of champagne, referring to wines with a dosage of over 50g per litre.

Extra Brut A champagne containing a maximum of 6g of sugar per litre.

Extra Sec/Extra Dry A champagne containing 12-20g of sugar per litre. Jeroboam- A 3-litre bottle, equivalent to four standard bottles of champagne.

Lieu-Dit A named parcel of vines. Champagne holds about 84,000 different lieux-dits.

Methuselah A 6-litre bottle, holding eight standard bottles of champagne.

Nebuchadnezzar A 15-litre bottle, holding 20 standard bottles of champagne.

Non-Dosé/Brut Zero/Brut Nature Champagne without any dosage.

Rehoboam A 4.5-litre bottle, holding six standard bottles of champagne.

Salmanazar A 9-litre bottle, holding 12 standard bottles of champagne.

Sec French for ‘dry’. Referring to a champagne with a dosage level of 17-35g of sugar per litre.

Vintage Champagne Champagne produced with the harvest of a single year, rather than being mixed with the wines from previous years, as champagnes normally are.

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