Basics of Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Here is a quick guide to Champagne and sparkling wine grapes, and storing and drinking the finished products!
It can be safely said that the classic Champagne grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and these are blended to form classic Champagne. Champagne houses generally use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at around 40-45% each in the wine, then the rest may be Pinot Meunier. Champagne has a monopoly on the use of the name ‘Champagne’, so other regions growing these grapes to make that style of wine must call their drink ‘sparkling wine’ – this includes France, where it may also be known as Cremant de Bourgogne or other names. In other sparkling wine growing regions outside France, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also commonly used, but Pinot Meunier is not always used as many other grape growing regions are slightly warmer than Champagne, and so do not require the addition of Pinot Meunier to flesh the wine out or make it more aromatic.
Pinot Meunier on the vine.
Making Champagne and Sparkling Wine
You can find out all about this in the Winemaking section!
Champagne Krug, one of the world's top Champagnes.
Champagne and sparkling wine serving temperatures are very important. Standard non-vintage (blended across years) champagnes and sparklings should served on the colder end of the spectrum, around 7-8 degrees Celsius. Vintage champagnes generally have more complex winemaking techniques, as well as the best attributes of their growing seasons. To get the most from these wines, you should serve them ‘at cellar temperature’, as I was told when visiting Champagne Billecart-Salmon. In other words, it should be 10-11 degrees Celsius.
For glassware (if you want glasses to suit your wines), a standard flute glass would be fine for most non-vintage champagnes or sparklings. For vintage champagnes, or barrel-fermented wines, a bigger glass would be required. For powerful, expressive wines, a glass as big as that used for oak-aged Chardonnay would be necessary. Riedel and Spiegelau make some of the leading glasses in this area.
Vertus, a top Champagne village.
This space is too small to list all the available food pairings with champagnes and sparkling wines. The classic pairing is oysters, and this will do the trick most of the time. I do try to give food pairings or food recommendations with the wines I review. Check out my tasting notes to see if I’ve given food recommendations.
Cellaring and storing champagnes and sparkling wines goes by the same principals as for white wines and red wines: darkness, temperature around 11-14 degrees Celsius, and no vibration or movement. Humidity is also a factor, so make sure your cellar is not too dry otherwise corks will dry out.