We all are familiar with the famous sparkling wine, Champagne. Here at Ohza, we love ourselves a good bottle of bubbly.
But how many of us actually know what Champagne is? What makes Champagne different from other sparkling wines? Champagne is one of the most recognizable names in sparkling wines, but what makes Champagne, Champagne?
Champagne is many things. It’s the go-to sparkling wine for celebrations and easily the most recognizable out of all sparkling wines. But is all sparkling wine Champagne? The easy answer is no. Here is everything you need to know about the beloved bubbly we call Champagne.
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine
When it comes to differentiating between Champagne and sparkling wine, it can be hard to tell sometimes. The two are very similar in taste, texture, and process, but there is one major difference.
Champagne wine must come from the Champagne region in France. Sparkling wine made outside that region cannot be called Champagne—even if it’s made exactly the same way.
Think of it like bourbon. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Champagne and sparkling wine are the same way.
For Champagne, it’s all about process and region. The region is the main differentiating factor, but the process plays a role as well.
The regulations on making Champagne are extremely strict compared to that of other sparkling wines. There are three main grapes used in the making of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir.
These grapes are part of what makes Champagne stand out from its other sparkling wine counterparts. Another big factor that goes into Champagne is how it is made.
Champagne is made using a process called the Traditional Method (or the méthode traditionelle, if we’re getting fancy). The Traditional Method is an involved process, hence the heftier price tag found on most Champagne.
The Traditional Method has eight crucial steps that separate it from other methods of winemaking. These steps are
- Primary Fermentation
- Liqueur de Tirage
- Second Fermentation
- Remuage or Riddling
- Disgorging or Dégorgement
- Addition of the Liqueur d’Expedition
Here is a crash course for each step of the Traditional Method.
The Traditional Method begins with harvesting the grapes just like any other method of winemaking. This process generally results in a wine with an alcohol content of roughly 10.5- 11% and is extremely acidic.
This step definitely doesn't taste very good and doesn't yet have those bubbles that set Champagne apart from the rest.
The next step is called Assemblage, which is when the blending occurs. The winemaker takes a variety of wines and blends them together to get that consistent Champagne taste we know and love.
No bubbles yet, but we are getting closer to the standard Champagne flavor.
Liqueur de Tirage
The third step in the process is called “Liqueur de Tirage,” which is just a fancy way of saying it’s time to add the yeast and sugars. The term means “Liquor circulation,” which is exactly what happens during this stage. A measured amount of yeast and cane sugar is added to the mix to prepare the wine for the next stage, Second Fermentation.
Second Fermentation is a process that can take weeks to occur. It is a slow, steady process that has to undergo a lot of changes.
This stage is one of the big reasons that Champagne is so pricey. According to the laws in France, each bottle has to go through at least 15 months of aging. If it’s going to be a vintage wine, it needs at least 36 months of aging. This is a significant amount of time to let a wine age, hence the price tag.
The last few stages are all involved with the bottling and redistribution of Champagne.
Remuage (or riddling) is a tedious process that requires twisting the bottles to get all the sediment to the top of the bottle. When done by hand, this process can take months. By machine, it takes a few weeks at the least.
Disgorging or Dégorgement
Disgorging or Dégorgement is the cleanup stage of this process. The neck of the bottle goes through a flash freeze process that helps remove the glob of yeast that has now made its way up the bottle. The bottle cap is then popped open (in true Champagne style), and the CO2 is released.
Adding Liqueur d’Expedition and Recorking
The last two steps involve adding the sweetness into the Champagne and re-corking it for distribution.
A tedious but necessary process, the Traditional Method is the only way to make true Champagne.
Dry or Brut?
When you’re looking at a bottle of Champagne, you will often find that there is a label indicating the level of sweetness. Look for terms like dry, extra dry, or Brut. But what do these terms mean? We’ll translate.
Depending on how much sugar is added during the Second Fermentation process, Champagne will have varying levels of sweetness. These are written out in a variety of terms.
- Brut Nature: This drink is bone dry, in the sense that it has little to no sugar added. It’s as stripped back and natural as it gets, hence the name Brut Nature.
- Extra Brut: This wine is still pretty dry, with only a touch of sugar added. It’s definitely not as sweet as its other counterparts.
- Brut: Brut is the most popular type of Champagne. It has a great middle level of sweetness without being overbearing.
- Dry, Sec, Seco: Wines that are labeled as Dry or Sec are definitely on the sweeter side. This wine is significantly sweeter than Brut.
- Demi-Sec, Demi-Seco: Demi-sec wines contain between 32 to 50 grams of sugar per liter, which places them on the sweeter end. These are great wines to pair with dessert or something savory to balance out the flavors.
Doux, Sweet, Dulce: These wines labeled Sweet or Dulce can have up to 50 grams or more of sugar added to them. They are the sweetest Champagnes around.
Most bottles of Champagne (and other sparkling wines) will explicitly say how sweet they are using one of these terms listed.
Got a sweet tooth? We recommend a Demi-Sec or a Doux wine. If you are more of a Champagne purist, aim for a Brut or Extra Brut bottle.
Celebrate With Some Champagne
Now that we know what Champagne is, the only thing left to do is to drink it. There’s a reason that Champagne remains the go-to choice for celebrations and events. Its classic bubbles and subtly sweet flavor are classic.
Champagne is most often drunk out of a Champagne flute, a specific glass made to preserve the aromas and flavors of the Champagne. If you don’t have a whole glassware collection, we have found that a white wine glass can do the job just as well.
Next time you get a bottle of Champagne, look for its tells. Find its sweetness level on the bottle, explore the specific region it was made in or do further research on the Traditional Method. Just like every sparkling wine is different, Champagne has different qualities too. It can be as dry and hearty as you would like, or it can be soft and sweet.
Celebrate you with a bottle of bubbly for any occasion because life is worth celebrating. Or, if you don’t want to splash out on fancy French wine, an Ohza mimosa will satisfy your craving for bubbles. With flavors like Mango and Cranberry, you’re sure to find something you’ll love. Cheers!