Wedding season is upon us. The sparkling wine most wedding patrons will be toasting is most likely not Champagne! Champagne Comes From Champagne and its inhabitants are the most passionate vignerons in the world. Their vineyards have been the battlefields for many wars, including a pair of worldly ones. Napoleon even had a mountain top leveled with the labor of his armies to have a banquet at Vertus.
Champagne is actually a village and a legally defined region about ninety minutes northeast of Paris. The sparkling wines from Champagne are highly regulated by the French Government and are made using a strict process called Methode Champenoise. Champagne Method, English translation, is very arduous, labor intensive, and requires several years of patience from start to finish. The key to Methode Champenoise, is a secondary fermentation that slowly happens in the bottle. This gives the sparkling wine its famous bubbles and it can’t be artificially accelerated with technology.
Champagne can only be made from three grapes—chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. There are many styles, but two common ones are “Blanc de Blanc” and “Blanc de Noirs.” Blanc de blanc literally means white from white and is made exclusively from Chardonnay. Blanc de noirs literally means white from red and is made from pinot noir and pinot meunier. Blanc de blanc is clean and crisp. Blanc de noir is nutty and full bodied.
Most Champagnes are blends and the grapes come from multiple vintages, hence NV or non-vintage. Chardonnay brings a crisp acidity to the blend. Pinot Noir brings richness and texture. Vintage Champagnes, like Cuvee Dom Perignon, are declared usually three times per decade and the grapes all come from the same year. Most Champagnes in America are labeled brut, which are dry, and there are sweet dessert Champagnes, which are labeled demi-sec or doux.
There are many cost effective alternatives to Champagne like Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco which can be a third the price and equal in quality to Champagne. They utilize modern technology in the bubbling process and do a really good job at it. Many traditional Champagne houses have purchased vineyard land in the new world and are producing sparkling wines using Method Champenoise, but at half the cost—vineyard land is a lot cheaper. Mass produced sparkling wine, the stuff that is $4 a bottle, is essentially still wines pumped with CO2 gas and bottled—just like Coke.
What are wedding guests toasting? Most likely, French regional sparkling wines utilizing modern technology. The labels are in French, most Americans don’t know how to read them, and they are easily mistaken for Champagne. A lot of these regional sparklers are really quite good and at a fraction of the cost. So when your toasting, remember—Champagne come from Champagne.