WTF is Champagne?

Note: While normally, I’m the one taking this pictures, this one is from my wedding and by the awesome Heather Chipps.

Champagne, aka that sparkling wine you love from that region in France, is actually incredibly technical. The technique is also steeped in hundreds of years of tradition, to the point where champagne cellars were actually made UNESCO heritage sites back in 2015.

So how does it work?

Champagne is solely made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or Chardonnay grapes. Most of the time, your sparkling sipper is made from about 2/3 red grapes and that 1/3 of Chardonnay. Once the grapes are done with the first fermentation and combined, you get your official blend, or as it’s known in the Champagne world, the “cuvée.”

Here’s where tradition comes in. The cuvée is then bottled and blended with a small amount of sugar and yeast, called the “tirage.” Then, it’s aged while sitting horizontally from anywhere from nine months to five (or even more) years. It rests in the constant climate of the champagne cellar, allowing for the yeast to add its flavors and bubbles throughout the liquid. Following the aging process, bottles are rotated so the now dead yeast particles come into the neck of the bottles. The necks of the bottles then go into a frozen bath so the dead frozen yeast can pop right on out.

Next, a little bit more wine and sugar are added back into the mix. The amount of sugar added is distinguished by the name on your bottle. A “Brut Nature” is the driest, followed by “Extra Brut”, “Brut”, “Extra Dry”, “Dry”, “Demi”, and “Demi Sec”. Wine Folly has a really excellent graphic that shows you how much sugar is in each type. Basically, I learned that my years of buying “Dry” champagne were WRONG and I should have been buying “Brut Nature” this whole time. Rookie mistake.

Champagne is corked the way it is because of the carbon dioxide bubbles the yeast has left behind. It keeps the build-up of CO2 intact, which gives us the satisfying POP upon opening.

So drink more champagne, because they sure put in a lot of effort to get it to you. Somehow it’s become relegated to dessert and bachelor parties, but champagne deserves more from us. Drink it with your main dish next time!

Want to learn more about champagne? Check out my sources from Wine Folly and enobytes.

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