Assemblage is the most important part of making champagne. This is the art of wine making, using a mixture of wines between the first and second fermentation that will determine the taste and quality of the final product.
True Champagne comes from a region of Northern France that has used that name for centuries. The process of producing quality sparkling wines started in that region and spread to different parts of the world.
The champagne process starts with different varieties of the grapes used mainly in white wines. Grape varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are squeezed in a pressoir coquart.
A thin layer of grapes goes into the press so that the juice does not come into contact with the skins. A press will squeeze 4,000 liters of juice but only the first 2,050 liters are used in assemblage for the cuvee that will eventually become a Champagne or sparkling wine. This is the juice that will be poured into a tank for the first fermentation.
The best fermentation has very little sugar. The sweeter taste is added with the assemblage.
Creating the wine
Assemblage is the blending of various non vintage fermented base wines to create the taste that will become the unique cuvee created by the winemaker. More than 70 different varieties of fermented grapes can be used to create a champagne blend.
A seasoned winemaker will be able to taste and smell that special combination of flavors needed for the blend. The winemaker will know the right chemical balance of varietal grapes required for the ideal second fermentation.
Many winemakers blend the newly fermented juice with reserved stocks of older wine to create their special cuvee. This also helps the new sparkling wine age faster. The blending with older wines can also give the new wine more body and fullness.
Added sugar, yeast and the wine create the liqueur de triage that will be put in bottles and capped with a regular bottle cap. These bottles go into a special rack called a pupitre for the second fermentation. This mixture will create the champagne that will be offered for sale.
The second fermentation allows the wines from the assemblage to mix and age together with carbon dioxide. A cool champagne fermentation cellar will foster smaller bubbles for a more consistent effervescence.
The remuage process that turns the wine bottles upside down allows all of the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle. The wine is aged in this position for 15 to 30 months.
The sediment is removed with the disgorgement process that puts only the neck of the bottle into a freezing brine. The cap is removed and the frozen sediment pops out along with some of the wine.
The top of the bottle is refilled with liqueur d’expedition. This is the dosage, the amount of sugar the winemaker feels is needed to balance the acidity level. Some blends require more sugar than others.
Acidity mellows over time. A sparkling wine that is aged longer in the second fermentation does not require as much sugar as a younger wine.
The assemblage and the fermentation processes developed in the Champagne region of France are used all over the world from California to Argentina to Australia and South Africa. This is the best method for producing fine sparkling wines that may be known generically as champagne.