How Do They Put the Sparkle in Champagne?

Ross Gardiner
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Good champagne is a substance we can all be in agreement upon. It’s fabulous. From the terrific mousse of bubbles, the faint fructose sweetness in battle with the puckered dryness, and the heady buzz that sends plumes of glitter to your brain, good champagne is top to bottom terrific. Bad champagne can be at best disappointing, and at worst a writhing headache in bottle.

While the recognition and appreciation for the substance is almost unanimous, the understanding of how champagne is made is much less universal.

Here are some facts about the champagne that will help you to understand what the legend of the good times is all about.

Champagne must be from the Champagne region in northeastern France. Anything else is not champagne. You’re fizzy wine might be cava (Spain), Prosecco (Italy), or just plain old sparkling wine, but if it isn’t from Champagne it isn’t Champagne.

Dom Perignon was the first great champagne maker

Yes, the monk behind the rapper’s favorite pop was the first person to embark on a journey towards perfecting champagne. He sought to enhance carbonation in his wine and learn how to control that with bottling. He also pioneered a heap of winemaking techniques which are still used today.

The carbonation is caused by fermentation

Champagne is fermented twice, which is a process that naturally creates carbonation. After the first fermentation is complete yeast and sugar are added and the bottle is corked. The wine is left for about a year and a half and over this time the juice carbonates.

Champagne was once known as ‘The Devil’s Wine’

This was due to the fact that before they had perfected the technique for sealing the bottles they had a tendency to explode without warning.

“I know one cellar in which there are three men who have each lost an eye,” wrote 19th century wine trader Thomas George Shaw.

The corks are smashed up pieces of other cork

Not quite as classy as one would expect, but champagne is stopped by what we call agglomerated cork. It’s a technique not too dissimilar to MDF or chipboard, and involves taking all of these little bits of cork and gluing them together to make a big cork.

Champagne is often made from black skinned grapes

“That’s 100% pinot noir. Single vineyard. They don’t even make it any more” said Miles.
“Pinot noir?” asked Jack.
“Then how come it’s white?”
“Oh, Jesus. Don’t ask questions like that up in wine country. They’ll think you’re some kind of dumbshit, OK?”

While being a bit dismissive and old school in its attitude, this scene from Sideways states that white wine can be made from red grapes. It all comes down to contact with the skin, where all of the pigment is contained. Pinot noir and pinot meunier are the most common red grapes used.

Chardonnay is the most common white varietal used in the champagne production process.

“Vintage” Champagne is more expensive than Multi or Non-Vintage Champagne

The majority of champagne out there is multivintage (or NV) meaning that it is a blend from multiple grape harvests over a period of years. Vintage champagne is released when the vineyard had an outstanding year and could pack their best stuff into a bottle. The vintage process takes much longer and explains the higher price.

We could do on and on and on with the facts about this wonderful substance, but this should be more than enough to impress your friends next time someone pops a bottle on a special occasion!