We often approach Champagne with a certain awe, intimidated by its allure and charm. Throughout its long history, it has gone through various wars and vicissitudes, consolidating its image over the centuries linked in an indissoluble way to moments of celebration.

But Champagne is above all a great wine. We must consider it as all the excellences of world oenology, know its expressive differences, the taste characteristics, the production areas, the different cuvées, the styles of the various producers , as we usually do when we talk about Bordeaux or Burgundy wines. Only in this way will we be able to consciously choose individual labels and better appreciate the moment in which to enjoy a good bottle.

The areas and vines of Champagne

The Champagne region can be divided into four major macro-areas: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs / Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Bar .

If we want to go into more detail, we can say that the area of the Montagne de Reims is characterized by soils with marl and layers of deep chalk; the area of the Côte des Blancs with the nearby Côte de Sézanne has lighter lands and outcropping chalks; the Vallée de la Marne has mixed soils with clay-limestone marl and sand; the Côte des Bar area has soils characterized by clay-limestone marl.

Each area of Champagne, based on the characteristics of the soil, has proved to be particularly suitable over the centuries for the cultivation of some grape varieties. In Champagne only the cultivation of Pinot Noir , Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and other minor vines, such as the Arbanne, the Petit Meslier, the Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Gris are allowed , which today together represent only 0.3% of the total . Pinot Noir covers around 38% of the Champagne vineyard and is mainly grown in the areas of Montagne de Reims and Côte des Bar. Pinot Meunier (31%) is the main grape of the Vallée de la Marne. Chardonnay (31%) is the most cultivated grape variety on the chalky soils of the Côte des Blancs and Côte de Sézanne.

Territory

The production area of the AOC Champagne extends over a total area of about 34,000 hectares , for an annual production that exceeds 300 million bottles. Inside there are 17 Village Grand Cru and 44 Premier Cru .

The Champagne region finds its ancient geological origins in the outcrop of a seabed. The deep chalky layers present in the subsoil consist of the sedimentation of limestone skeletons of molluscs and marine micro organisms. These are very draining soils, but which retain moisture in the deeper layers. This feature allows to have always dry soils on the surface and to be able to count on a water reserve available for the deep roots of the plants in dry periods. A situation of perfect vegetative balance for the vine.

The climate

The Champagne region is made up of valleys and hills, often with rather steep slopes. The vineyards are cultivated in a hilly belt that goes from 100 to 300 meters above sea level, with sunny exposures oriented towards south or southeast. Champagne is located on the line of the 49th parallel, a latitude that represents the northern border for the cultivation of the vine and the hours of sunshine are precious for completing the cycle of ripening of the grapes.

The climate is mainly continental, with very cold winters and fairly hot summers. Spring frosts are not uncommon, which can create serious damage to young shoots of plants, as well as thunderstorms with hail during the summer months. However, extreme temperatures are mitigated by the influence of the nearby ocean, which helps to soften the climate a bit and ensure the right amount of humidity and rain.

Types of Champagne

Champagne is often referred to by referring generically to a wine. In reality, the world of this extraordinary excellence of French enology is very complex and articulated. When we talk about Champagne we must remember that we always refer to the practice of assembly, a true art entrusted to the Chef de Cave .

Sans année, Millesimati and Cuvée Vintage:
At the base of the production of a Champagne are the famous vins clairs, vinified separately for each individual parcel. For non-vintage Champagne, reserve wines from previous years can also be added to the base wines. You can easily get to have a few hundred different wines available for areas of origin, vines, aromatic characteristics and degree of evolution. Endless pieces of a mosaic with which to create the final wine. A work that presupposes a profound wine knowledge, an unusual taste and sensorial memory. Like a conductor, who has to play all the instruments together, the Chef de Cave has to decide the final assembly to create a wine that is a harmonious sum of the base wines. It must also have the talent to imagine the evolution of the cuvée over time, knowing that it will reach its expressive peak only after a few years of aging on the lees. A visionary and almost prophetic ability, which can only be acquired with long experience in the field.

Precisely by tasting and evaluating the vins clairs, the Chef de Cave decides even if the vintage expresses wines so balanced that they can make a Millesimato. The extreme climate of Champagne does not provide every year wines suitable for producing quality vintage wines. Apart from the big Maison, which can choose and mediate between grapes from many areas of the region, for small producers Millesimato is an exception to be produced only 5/6 times in a decade. Most of the Champagne on the market are sans année, made with a skilful assemblage of vintage wines and reserve wines jealously kept in the cellars of the Maison.
Many prestigious Cuvée Vintage and Cuvée Prestige are also born from the assembly of the best wines from different vintages.

Blanc de Blancs , Blanc de Noirs and Rosé :

The more traditional assembly of the Champagne of the major Maison often involves similar percentages of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir gives notes of berries, structure and power; Pinot Meunier softness, roundness, ripe fruity aromas and gustatory readiness; Chardonnay finesse, elegance, floral, citrus notes, potential for aging and evolution.

However there is no lack of different assemblies, especially in the case of small producers, who have the vineyards in one area. We can talk about Blanc de Blancs, when a Champagne is produced with only white grapes, of Blanc de Noirs if produced with only red berried grapes, of Rosé if there is a slight stop on the skins or the addition of a small percentage of Red wine. There are mono-cépage Champagne, produced with only one grape variety such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, as well as mono-cru Champagne, produced with grapes from a single Village, which emblematically express the peculiar characteristics of a small and fine terroir.

Food pairings

Champagne is not only for big occasions , parties and anniversaries, it is also an excellent wine for food pairings. The different assemblages, dosages and aging periods offer a wide range of types, which make it extremely flexible at the table.

The simplest cuvées, with refinements on the yeasts rather short, will be perfect for the moment of the aperitif or for light and delicate appetizers, in particular based on fish .
The Extra Brut and Pas Dosé are excellent to accompany shellfish and caviar .
With oysters , however, it is better to follow the territorial pairing with a classic Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine.
Thanks to their intact freshness, accompanied by a good structure and persistence, the Champagne Millesimati are perfect to accompany first courses , in particular pasta and seafood risotto or second courses based on fish baked or in sauce.
The Vintage Cuvées, which thanks to long aging on the lees have aromatic depth and taste length, can be combined with main courses such as white meats, roasts or small game cooked in the oven or on a spit.

As for the dosages, much depends on personal taste: in general we can say that the more a dish has a fat tendency, the more it will find balance with low dosages. The Blanc de Blancs go very well with dishes with a delicate taste and the Blanc de Noirs with more structured dishes and more decisive flavors. The only forbidden pairing is with sweets, except for the Demi-sec and Doux versions, which are however increasingly rare.

Often one wonders what is the best time or occasion to uncork a bottle of Champagne . As far as we said talking about combinations, there is no doubt that the table, especially with a refined and important menu, is the best place to taste and fully appreciate a great wine like Champagne. So keep the best bottles for a good dinner , maybe to share with friends who know how to appreciate the qualities of this absolute excellence. However Champagne is also a great recurring wine. He often toasts with a glass of Champagne to celebrate a graduation, a birthday, an anniversary. In these cases, the combination is with appetizers and canapés, so choose a simple cuvée base sans année of the most popular Maison on the market, which will give a pleasant and not too demanding sip.

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{Snippet: CHAMPAGNE}

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