Champagne – a drink that conjures up images of glamourous lifestyles, celebrities, parties and special occasions. But what is it is that makes champagne so special and so expensive?
There is a lot of information available about wine but it can be confusing and, let’s face it, somewhat pretentious – notes of this, hints of that, something on the nose!
So in this blog I would like to demystify champagne with some interesting facts that should help you choose the best champagne for your tastes and make sure you don’t waste your hard earned money.
One of the first things to understand is that not all sparkling wine is champagne. Champagne comes only from the region of Champagne in France. However, as we will now explore, that doesn’t mean that all champagne is the same.
Let’s start with sweetness.
The sweetness in champagne comes from the dosage that is added during fermentation – without this mixture of wine and sugar champagne would be very acidic and unpleasant.
There are seven levels of sweetness:
Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-sec, Doux.
Brut nature is the driest, and doux the sweetest although you will notice that, slightly confusingly, dry is at the sweeter end of the spectrum! Most champagne is made at the brut level.
There are three main grapes used in champagne
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Meunier
The type and quantity of each grape used will dictate the style of champagne produced.
Chardonnay – a champagne using 100% chardonnay grape is a blanc de blanc style. Generally these will be on the lighter and dryer side and have lemon and apple like flavours.
Pinot Noir – a champagne made with 100% pinot noir or pinot meunier is a blanc de noir. These will have more body and fruitiness than a blanc de blanc as well as strawberry and raspberry flavours.
Rose – this is made by adding a small percentage of red wine to the champagne to give it a fruity flavour
If there is no style listed on the label then the producer has most likely used a blend of all three grapes in a blanc style. This blending is known as assemblage, and while blending is frowned upon in regular wine production it is an art form in champagne making and in part what gives champagnes some of its special characteristics.
Vintage or Non-Vintage?
As it sounds, vintage is the length of time the champagne has been aged. Champagne is aged on the lees, which means it is aged in the bottle while the yeast cells (lees) still sit in the wine. This is important because the yeast cells provide flavour and complexity to the wine which is, in part, what makes champagne so special.
The general rule for aging champagne is:
Non-Vintage – aged for a minimum of 15 months
Vintage – aged for a minimum of three years
There are five main growing regions within Champagne and as with all wines the region will give the champagne produced there its unique qualities.
Montagne de Reims
Mainly Pinot Noir grapes producing richer, fuller bodied champagne
Vallee de la Marne
Pinot Meunier grape producing champagne with more smoky but also fruity flavours
Cote des Blancs
Mostly chardonnay grapes and so produces blanc de blanc, light and fruity champagne
Cote des Sezannes
Again, mostly chardonnay grapes
Cote des Bar
Pinot Noir grape so produces wines similar to those from Reims
So, now that we have some essential facts let’s look at Angel Champagne using our new found knowledge so you can decide if it’s the right champagne for you!
Angel uses all three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The assemblage (blending) of these three varieties gives Angel Champagne a fantastic soft fruit flavor (chardonnay), boldness and depth (Pinot Noir) and finally adding complexity to the power of the pinot noir and the fruitiness of the chardonnay we have Pinot Meuniere.
Angel Champagne is from the region of Montagne de Reims
Our Non-vintage is aged for 30 months, our rose 36 months and our vintage 7—8 years
The exact dosage used is a closely guarded secret, passed down from generation to generation; however I can tell you that Angel Champagne is made in the brut style.
What does all of this mean?
Angel Non-Vintage is aged for twice minimum required time meaning it has had time to develop a rich and complex flavor – no bland, fizzy or tasteless wine here!
It is from the region of Reims, so is full bodied but uses the chardonnay grape to add lightness and acidity and Pinto Mineur to add fruitiness producing a well-balanced champagne.
And finally it is produced in the brut style, meaning it is the right balance of dryness and sweetness so should suit most palates.
So what are you waiting for, give it a try!