Champagne Touring - the Grapes grown in the region.
Champagne Classification - The classification system you come across on your Champagne wine touring is based on Vineyard ratings. The land is graded according to its suitability for black and white grapes, ranging from 100 per cent for the 17 finest Grand Cru villages, then 99-90 percent for the 38 Premier Cru villages and down to 80 per cent for the least favoured. Champagne houses often boast how high their average percentage of grapes is from the higher rated villages. Some Champagne will have words like Premier Cru or 100 per cent with a village name like Avize on the label, this means the wine comes from that single top village.
Grapes of the Champagne Trails. In the "Champagne" appellation, only three grape varieties are allowed
Non Vintage - -The major Champagne houses and growers pride themselves on each year providing a similar – continuous - house style entry level cuvee through the selective blending of various vintages. Most nonvintage Champagnes are based on juice from a single year, with some added reserve wines from previous vintages- 20 to 30%. There is a minimum ageing on lees before release of 16 months, but all quality houses give their wines considerably longer – 3 to 4 years for nonvintage blends - , which greatly improves flavour and character. Vintage- .Wine from only a single, good quality year which happens about 3 years of every decade is blended as a Vintage Champagne. Typically fuller, deeper, and better quality than non vintage Champagne, it is usual for vintage champagne to be aged on lees for 7 to 8 years. Vintage Champagnes are characterized by cleaner, more precise aromas with the flora and crisp fruit characteristics more evident. It is a waste to use a vintage champagne for 'spontaneous celebrations' wines where most of the bottle is sprayed on opening. To fully appreciate and really enjoy vintage Champagne take your time in drinking. Cuvee de Prestige/de Luxe- A special, highly prized, and highly priced blend. Usually vintage but not always. These wines usually come in distinctively shaped bottles.
Champagne Blending decisions are a serious business.
Champage Sweetness based on grams per liter added.
Champagne Label Apart from descriptive terms on the label, letters in small print at the bottom of the label will indicate the type of producer. The numbers that follow will identify the individual wine maker.
CHAMPAGNE HOUSE BLENDS - Each major Champange producer and many smaller ones have a signiture blend that they try to duplicate each year - this is a nonvintage blend based on using the years grape harvest , but they also blend juice from other years - 20 to 30%, also from different villages, and vineyards. The aim is to get a consistent high quality house Champage style that is recognized as their product - most are brut, some are fruity, others more minerally, with acidity for refreshing the palette, etc...
For Wine Masters of Champagne houses, its a slow, deliberate process that requires expert knowledge and experience. The goal is to achieve the character and quality of previous years. Like each individual girl below the idea is to get them be as similar as possible. The fun of course is they are all lovely but still slightly different.
In addition to the house standard nonvintage Champagne blend the wine master also blends the other Champagne styles, the quantity of each style based on the quality of the various grapes harvested.
The "Methode Champenoise" - In other French wine regions sparkling wines - "Cremants" - produced this way are said to be made using the - "Methode Traditonelle".
First Picture above is machine riddling pallet that holds over 500 bottles and moves yeast to bottle neck in approx. 1 week, the wooden rack hand riddling takes 6 to 8 weeks. Second picture shows bottle caps colour coding for identification.. Last picture is the machine that freezes yeast sediment in neck for disgorging.
The Yeast Sediment
In the Champagne appellation all grapes are picked by hand. One of numerous appellation controls that guarantee the regions quality.
Steel or concrete tanks for first fermentation
Some Champagne blends aged in barrels for months or years.
Wooden Racks - pupitres -are cleverly designed to move bottles to different angles for riddling which in the case of wooden racks is done by hand. A worker holds the bottom of each bottle, giving it a short shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, and then increasing the tilt, puts it back in the rack. .. The shaking and twist is meant to dislodge particles that cling to the glass and prevent sediments from forming in one spot. By the changing the angle the sediment moves to bottle neck.