Rumor has it that the Romans began cultivating what would later become champagne in France’s Champagne region starting around the fifth century.
Champagne: Past and Present
Since the days of French kings receiving coronations over delicious champagne and the later innovations by the well-known Benedictine monk Dom Preignon, we’ve certainly come a long way.
Today everything from rose champagnes to prestige cuvees are happily uncorked and used to celebrate good times.
You may have also heard the terms “brut” or “demi-sec” tossed around – this simply refers to the sweetness and the amount of sugar added after secondary fermentation to the champagne itself.
Popular Types of Champagne
To earn its namesake, all champagne must come from the champagne region of France and get its natural carbonation (“fizziness,” if you will) from a natural process known as secondary fermentation.
Black and White Grapes
It’s more common for black grapes to be used in creating the cuvee upon which most champagnes are created.
Pinot meunier and the ever-popular pinot noir are two examples of black grape varieties that ultimately comprise some of the most crisp-tasting champagnes today.
Cuvees are also created from white grapes, however. In fact, one type alone, chardonnay, accounts for nearly half a million acres around the world.
Champagne aficionados still love the hints of citrus and smooth, buttery aftertaste of a good chardonnay.
Cuvee de Prestige
Many producers separate their different offerings based on the vintage and quality of the cuvee as well as nuances of the grape-harvesting process.
For instance, a producer’s cuvee de prestige is that vineyard’s highest quality offering – this class includes Dom Perignon from Moet & Chandron as well as Cristal from Louis Roederer.
These champagnes are so well-received because the cuvees draw on the vineyards’ most vintage offerings.
As the name implies, a rose champagne has the reddish appearance of roses – but why?
Rose champagnes are conversely known as pink champagnes; by whichever name, this kind of champagne gets its color and distinct taste through allowing the black grapes’ skin to soften in a process called the saignee method.
Sometimes a higher concentration of red wine is even added to rose champagne’s cuvee to guarantee the same color and gentler taste from one vintage to the next.
Blanc de Blancs
In french “blanc” means white, so blanc de blancs translates to “white to white.” This refers to the fact that white chardonnay grapes are used for the cuvee or blanc de blancs.
Pol Roger’s blanc de blancs is especially well-regarded for its creaminess and ability to complement light dishes (e.g., cheese or nuts) or heavier entrees alike.
Champagne’s Sweetness Scale
An alternative way of looking at champagne is to categorize it based on sweetness, or how much sugar is added after the secondary fermentation process.
Smaller vineyards tend to produce champagnes that are very dry, and either termed extra brut or (more rarely) zero brut. Extra brut means that there’s less than six grams of sugar per liter in the final product whereas zero brut means that there’s less than three grams of sugar per liter.
Moving up in sweetness from the bruts, we have extra dry, sec and demi-sec champagnes. These denote champagnes that have between one dozen and four dozen grams of sugar per liter in the final champagne.
Finally, your doux champagne is going to be the sweetest of the bunch at 50 grams or more per liter. Tastes vary, but many people prefer the crisp, dry flavors nearer the bruts and extra dry part of the spectrum. Stick with what works for you, and enjoy!