France is responsible for producing between 50 to 60 million hectolitres of wine per year, the equivalent of 7 to 8 million bottles, so we are now focusing on one of its most famous wine regions: Champagne.
This concept is central to the production of higher end French wines and refers to the connection between the style of wine to the location where the grapes are grown. It is, in essence, the combination of environmental factors that influence crops, environment contexts and farming practices.
Terroir is also the basis for the Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, which regulates wines and assumes that the soil where grapes grow are unique and provide a unique quality to the wine. While the exact definition is still debated by wine connoisseurs and experts, some elements are often considered essential to terroir, such as climate, soil type and geomorphology.
The Champagne Wine Region
Champagne is a historical province in the northeast of France, founded in 1065 and best known for the sparkling white wine that bears the same name. This wine region is one of the coldest of France and produces both white and rosé champagne.
Champagne’s viticultural boundaries were defined in 1927 and split into five wine producing districts: The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne. The viticultural area of Champagne covers 76,000 acres of vineyards, with 319 villages that are home to 5,000 producers who make their own wine and 14,000 growers who sell grapes.
The region is characterised for its high altitude and average temperature of 10oC, which creates a challenging environment for grapes. However, forests in the area help stabilise temperature and retain soil moisture. The grape acidity that results from this environment is perfect for sparkling wine, especially champagne.
Champagne Grape Varieties
Most champagnes produced today are non-vintage; this is because they are complex wines, derived from the blend (or cuvée) of several grapes. The three main ones are Pinot Noir (red grapes), Pinto Meunier (another red variety) and Chardonnay (white grapes).
Most champagnes, include rosé, are a mixture of all three grapes; because there is no skin contact during fermentation, the red varieties end up producing white wine as well. Some champagnes, however, like the blanc de blanc, are 100% produced from Chardonnay grapes.
Wines Produced in the Region
The most famous wine produced in this area is, of course, champagne, known around the world for being produced from specific grapes only grown there. In order for a sparkling wine to be called champagne, it needs to follow other rules, such as secondary fermentation in the bottle to create carbonation and a specific set of vineyard practices and pressing.
The quality of champagne depends on the balance between grape quality and the skills of the producers, which allows them to be ranked and promoted according to the producer, not the delimited appellation. Amongst the highest rated blends in Krug, Mumm, Bollinger, Möet and Heidsieck.
Not all French sparkling wines are champagne, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior. On the contrary, there are many quality non-champagne sparkling wines sold in the country, such as the ones produced in Burgundy and the Loire Valley.
The Champagne wine region might be famous for its sparkling wine, but other types of wine are also produced here, although in smaller quantities (because of the popularity of champagne). Non-sparkling still wines are sold under the designation Coteaux Champenois; the rosé designation is Rosé des Riceys; and the vin the liqueur is Ratafia de Champagne.
France is renown throughout the world for its high-end quality wines and a rich wine history that dates back to the 6th century BC. Aficionados and connoisseurs everywhere can enjoy the delicate body and intricate flavours of this sparkling white wine and build their own collection of beautifully produced champagne, which they can add to their Spiral Cellar.