What Types of Grapes are Used to Make Champagne?

what-types-of-grapes-are-used-to-make-champagneChampagne is widely used in many occasions and in many countries. There are many styles of champagne as well as types. In fact they are designed to please a variety of taste preferences. It is also best known for its bubbly appearance and taste. All champagnes have one thing in common, they are made with grapes. The many various vineyards, mainly in France, grow specific varieties especially for champagne.

What is champagne and what is it made of?

Champange is a white sparkling wine. It is usually associated with luxury. It is typically made in France. There are rules in the making of champagne that demand there be a secondary fermentation of a wine in a bottle to create the carbonation so well known in champagne.

Champagne is, generally, made up of a complex bending of wines. It is not just made from a blend of grape varieties but of wines. Usually, these wines area from vineyards throughout regions of France known for Champagne. Also, these wines tend to be a blend of different vintages.

What grapes are used in making champagne?

When champagne is made there are three primary grape varieties used. These grapes add different components to champagne. The three grape varieties used most are:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Chardonnay

There are a few grape varieties that may still be used in champagne, although rarely. Petit Meslier, Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc are among those still permitted in the making of champagne. However, they can not be replanted and have little to do with the process anymore.

What do these varieties add to a champagne?

Pinot Noir is a red type of grape. The components in this variety add structure, body, and aroma. It also adds to the complexity of the flavors in the champagne. Pinot Noir is viewed by most of its producers as one of the finer grapes.

Pinot Meunier is also of the red variety and is related to the Pinot Noir. This grape tends to contribute to the readiness of a champagne. Usually these champagne types can be consumed sooner than other types of champagne. Pinot Meunier adds to the fuitiness of the drink. It also effects the floral aromas.

The Chardonnay is a white grape. This is said to be the star in the Champagne region. Its components give elegance and finesse to the champagne. It also contributes to the freshness and delicacy. Chardonnay is used often in the most prestigious Champagnes.

The components and attention to detail in the flavoring of champagne is what makes it most appealing to many enthusiasts. This is why champagne is so often seen in special occasions and with luxurious gatherings.

Why is Champagne Bubbly?

why-is-champagne-bubblyChampagne (and sparkling wine) has long been associated with celebration, romance, and the finer things in life. Whether you are planning a party for one hundred of your closest friends or wish to share a special evening with your spouse, the tingle of champagne bubbles will enhance any occasion. Yet, few of us understand the science inside those little bubbles; since its the bubbles that separate regular wine from champagne, learning more about how those bubbles get into each bottle can be fascinating.

All Champagne and Sparkling Wine Begins on the Vine

As with the production of regular wine, champagne production begins with one or more types of grapes harvested at perfect ripeness. Depending on the type and quality of the final product, grape varieties will be selected to produce white, pink, and occasionally red champagnes ranging from dry to sweet. After the first fermentation process is complete, these wines require a second fermentation to become the bubbly, sparkling beverage many of you enjoy.

Three methods are available to transform wine into champagne, although technically only one will produce genuine champagne, while the other two methods produce sparkling wine (for technical purposes, the terms champagne and sparkling wine are often interchangeable, but for true champagne enthusiasts, the distinction may be of importance).

True Champagnes are Aged for Long Periods of Time

To receive classification as true champagne, the slow, traditional method of fermenting fine wine into its bubbly cousin by adding additional yeast and sugar to the wine must take place in the French city of Champagne itself, where bottles are stored for at least 15 months to allow the natural fermentation process plenty of time to develop bubbles that last a long time after the bottle is opened. During the second fermentation period, the bottles are slowly turned upside down to allow the fermentation residue to settle in the neck of the bottles. After a brief freezing which forces the residue out of the bottles, one more dosage of yeast and sugar is added to each bottle which is then corked, caged, and allowed to ferment for many more months or even years for some of the finest champagne varieties.

Simpler Methods Produce Bubbles at a Lower Cost

The tank method, while technically producing sparkling wine as opposed to champagne, allows the wine to undergo a second fermentation with the addition of yeast and sugar in a large pressurized tank as opposed to individual bottles. Since the bubbly, sparkling wine is bottled under pressure, the bubbles remain in tact until the bottle is opened and enjoyed, producing a similar experience as their more expensive champagne relatives at a more affordable cost.

The lowest priced sparkling wines are produced with the bicycle pump method. This entire process is completed under pressure in the same manner used to produce carbonated sodas. Carbon dioxide is the gaseous agent that allows the bubbles to liven up traditional wine varieties, and although these bubbles won’t last as long as those produced with the previous two methods, in many situations, that bubbly treat will disappear into the mouths of those enjoying the celebration at hand before they have time to escape.

There is a Perfect Champagne or Sparkling Wine Variety for Every Occasion

Regardless of whether you wish to share sparkling wine varieties produced with carbon dioxide for a large group of people or are celebrating a very special evening that calls for only the finest true champagne imported directly from France, the large number of champagne and sparkling wine products available allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy simple elegance any time of the year.

Has the California Drought Burst Your Bubbles?

Have a glass of your favorite sparkling wine in hand? Good – savor every drop. Drought and Farming have never been a good word combination, and with California in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the century we should all do a little rain dance for our favorite wine growers and makers. Here’s the good news: the overseas market is so competitive that most wine makers and purveyors won’t be able to raise their prices much at all without the risk of losing customers.

The bad news? If crop yields continue to decline as the result of the drought, some of your favorite vineyards may go out of business. That’s not good for any of us, especially since the first ones to go are the smaller family-run and boutique vineyards that help to keep the wine industry exciting.

California Drought Shouldn’t Affect Your Bubbly Anytime Soon but a Little Rain Would be Nice

Here’s the reality – some vineyards are drying up, others are faring a little better. In an article on wine-searcher.com, Lake County vineyard owner and manager David Weiss said, “I’ve been growing grapes for 20 years, and we haven’t seen anything like this. If we don’t get significant rainfall between now and bud break, the vines are going to suffer.” Growing grapes requires quite a bit of water. In a drought year, the water table shrinks significantly and some wells will actually dry up, forcing grape growers to buy their water, an incredibly expensive endeavor and one that gets agitated neighbors and community members pointing fingers.

“Wine is a luxury, it’s not a necessity,” said Rosemary Bourgault in an interview with Bloomberg’s James Nash. “I love wine. I love the industry,” commented Bourgault, “but we need to protect our water sources, not abuse them. Water is priceless.” This sentiment is one that is shared by many of the residents that live in areas that produce wine grapes. While that opinion is understandable, it’s difficult for long-time family wine growers, many of whom have grown grapes for five generations or more, to hear that their livelihood isn’t worth fighting for or worthy of community support.

Most wine experts agree that although this current drought will come to an end, more dry seasons will be upon us. Climate change predictors show that while areas like Napa’s wine growing regions may dry up, the climate in other areas will become more ripe for growing grapes (pun intended), and that brings a huge sigh of relief for those of us who love to drink sparkling wines.

How Will the Drought Affect California Sparkling Wine Consumers?

So the question remains: “How will the current drought affect California’s sparkling wine industry and its consumers?” Nobody can be 100% sure of the answer, only time and future grape harvests will tell. But here’s what the experts are predicting:

  • For this year, all signs point to a good harvest and that bodes well for the consumer. The drought and the heat have caused the harvest to commence a couple weeks early, but most of the crop yields are still within a desirable range, albeit smaller than previous years.
  • Winemakers will get smarter and more creative with the ways they irrigate, or don’t, and where they choose to grow their grapes. This should still yield large enough grape harvets to ensure sparkling wine prices won’t be affected in the near future.
  • We may see some delicious sparkling wines as a result of the drought. Did you know that forcing vines to grow longer, stronger roots to access water at deeper soil levels often yields a more robust and flavorful grape? 2014 and 2015 may produce some surprising award-winning sparkling wines.

For now, most farmers and wine aficionados are trying to maintain a positive outlook. Hopefully, a combination of creative growing practices and improved weather conditions will get the industry back on track. In the meantime, toasting your glass to a nice rain storm or two wouldn’t be the worst idea. Cheers!