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Champagne is located in the northeastern part of France, about 145 kilometers east of Paris. It enjoys a cool and northern climate, which is essential for the production of high-quality sparkling wine.

Champagne region

The Champagne region is characterized by gently rolling hills covered with vineyards. The geology of the region is diverse, with a variety of soils including chalk, limestone and clay contributing to the complexity of the wines. The vineyards are mainly planted with three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Nowadays experiments are also being done with native grape varieties.

Champagne sub-regions and terroir

Champagne is divided into several regions, which designate the specific geographic area where authentic Champagne can be produced. Within the Champagne AOC there are several sub-regions, including the Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs and Vallée de la Marne, each known for its unique terroir. Each sub-region in Champagne contributes to the diversity and complexity of the region's wines. Producers often blend grapes from different sub-regions to create well-balanced and harmonious Champagnes, combining the unique characteristics of each area to create a distinctive final product. Understanding these sub-regions can be helpful when exploring the wide variety of Champagne styles available. Here are some of the prominent sub-regions of Champagne:

Montagne de Reims: Located west of Reims, this sub-region is known for its hills covered in vineyards. The Montagne de Reims is best known for Pinot Noir on chalky soils. Wines from this area are often rich, structured and known for their red fruit and floral aromas. Some well-known villages in this sub-region are Ambonnay, Verzy and Bouzy.

Côte des Blancs: Located south of Epernay, it is known for its predominantly chalky soils. This sub-region is mainly planted with Chardonnay, which produce elegant and mineral-driven wines with notes of citrus, white flowers and chalk. Well-known villages in this area include Avize, Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Vallée de la Marne: This sub-region follows the course of the Marne River and is known for its varied terroir. The valley offers a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vineyards. Wines from the Vallée de la Marne are often well balanced, with a mix of fruitiness and structure. Important villages are Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay and Dizy.

Côte des Bar: Located in the southern part of the Champagne region, the Côte des Bar has a slightly warmer climate compared to other sub-regions. This area is known for its Pinot Noir production, resulting in wines with bold, fruity flavors and a distinct character. Well-known villages in the Côte des Bar are Les Riceys and Bar-sur-Aube. There has been a lot of experimentation with Chardonnay here in recent years. Due to the location of this sub-region, it shares its terroir more with Burgundy than with Champagne. For example, it is closer to Chablis than it is to Reims. This gives Chardonnay more elegance, minerality and finesse.

Aube: The Aube department is an eastern extension of the Champagne region and is increasingly recognized for its Pinot Noir-based wines. Some producers from this area choose to label their wines as "Côte des Bar", while others simply use the broader name "Champagne".

Côte de Sézanne: Located south of Epernay, this smaller sub-region is known for the production of Chardonnay-based Champagne. Wines from Côte de Sézanne often exhibit a fine balance between freshness and elegance.

Côte des Riceys: A village in the Aube department, it is known for the production of rosé Champagne. The wines from this area are often rich and fruity.

Champagne production

The primary focus in Champagne is on the production of sparkling wine, which is made using the traditional method (Méthode Champenoise or Méthode Traditionnelle). This method involves a second fermentation in the bottle, which creates the characteristic bubbles. The three aforementioned grape varieties play a crucial role in the production of Champagne. By blending these grapes, winemakers can create a wide range of styles, from fresh and light to rich and complex:

Chardonnay: Known for its elegance and finesse, Chardonnay is the only white grape used in Champagne. It contributes the acidity and citrus notes to the blend.

Pinot Noir: A red grape variety, used for its structure, body and red fruit characteristics.

Pinot Meunier: Another red grape, adds roundness and fruitiness to Champagne. It is often used to balance the blend.

Storing champagne

Champagne undergoes a regulated aging process that varies depending on the type. Non-vintage Champagne (NV) matures for a minimum of 15 months, while vintage Champagne must mature for a minimum of 3 years. Some prestige cuvées can mature for much longer and develop complex flavors over time. Of course, after buying a vintage or prestige Champagne you can choose to keep it yourself. While non-vintage Champagnes may develop better younger, vintage or prestige Champagnes often develop better with age. These are some of the effects of storing and aging Champagne.

Development of complex flavors: Over time, the primary fruit flavors evolve into secondary and tertiary aromas, including notes of brioche, roasted nuts, honey and dried fruit. The Champagne becomes more layered and nuanced.

Improved texture: Long-term maturation allows the wine to develop a more refined and integrated texture. The bubbles become finer and the acidity softens, creating a softer mouthfeel.

Greater Maturity: As Champagne ages, the components of Champagne, including acidity, alcohol and sugar, harmonize, resulting in a more mature and balanced wine.

Aromas and flavors: Each Champagne house has its unique style and aging regime, which imparts different qualities to their wines. The house's storage techniques, the choice of yeast and the proportion of reserve wines contribute to these unique characteristics.

Proper Storage: Aging Champagne requires proper storage conditions, including a cool and dark environment with consistent temperature, humidity control and minimal vibration. The bottles should be stored horizontally to keep the cork moist and prevent it from drying out and air from entering.

Champagne producers

Champagne is home to many famous houses and producers. Over the years, the Champagne houses have slowly been divided into two groups. The large producers (Maisons de Champagne) such as Krug, Ruinart, Louis Roederer and Taittinger, and the small growers (Récoltants-Manipulants). There is a big difference between this group in terms of production, blending, distribution and marketing. Major champagne houses are often large, established companies with significant production capabilities. They can produce millions of bottles of champagne every year, making them major players in the global champagne market. Small growers have typically owned their vineyards for generations and have a close bond with the land. This ownership gives them greater control over grape quality and vineyard practices. Many small growers focus on producing champagnes from one vineyard or one grape variety that reflect the specific terroir and characteristics of their vineyards. Small growers are usually family businesses or small-scale businesses. They often cultivate their vineyards and may have limited production capacity, usually producing fewer bottles compared to large houses. There is a wide range of champagnes from small producers, each with its own distinctive character, making them attractive to wine lovers looking for diversity and authenticity.

Tourism in Champagne

The Champagne region is also a popular tourist destination, offering vineyard tours, tastings and opportunities to explore the history and art of winemaking. The city of Reims, with its beautiful Gothic cathedral, is a hub for champagne tourism. In summary, the Champagne wine region is synonymous with luxury and celebration. It is a place where centuries of winemaking tradition, unique terroir and expert craftsmanship come together to produce some of the world's finest sparkling wines. Champagne wines are celebrated for their elegance, complexity and effervescence, making them a symbol of joy and celebration around the world.