It is nearly impossible to talk about French wine and the wine regions of France without mentioning Champagne. This neighbor of Burgundy tried to compete with them throughout the medieval age with their still wines. The cooler conditions made it difficult to best their rival as grapes would not reach peak ripeness and fermentations were challenging. Wines produced were thinner and lighter, far from the balance and complexity of their competitors. Like many breakthroughs, accidents lead the way to a new path. After centuries of bottles exploding because of fermentation happening in the bottles when warmer season approached, vintners and monk studied this “devil’s wine” effect to tame it and understand it. Under the reign of Louis the XIVth, Merret depicted the process of method Champenoise that, few years after, Dom Pérignon enhanced by focusing on the farming techniques. His aim was to create a stable pattern for this procedure (he didn’t create it but was the one who formalized its modern scientific approach). It was during the nineteenth century that this market took off and that Champagne became the center of the world for refined, fantastic sparkling wines. In order to be labelled Champagne, the wine need to finish its fermentation at least 12 month in the bottle. This is where the carbonic gas is released and creates bubbles. If this process goes up to 36 month and the wine is only from a single vintage, then the winery can label the Vintage on it: this explains why Vintage are usually the most expensive item on a producer’s selection.
Among the varietals the region produces, three comes on top: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Although, the vast majority of Champagne are produced by Negociant who blend the 3 varietals. There are still small producers Recoltant Manipulant (RM) that source everything from their vineyard and focus on 1 varietal depending on the sub region. Naturally, out of the 5 sub-regions, we focus on the 3 emblematic that regroup 15 of the 17 grand Crus and the vast majority of the 30 Premier Crus Village:
Montagne de Reims: The Kingdom of Dom and Pinot Noir Blend
Hosting 9 Grand Crus villages, the most famous negociant are based in Reims where the Pinot Noir is the foundation of their blend. It brings the heaviest body to the wine with flavors of brioche, yeast and spices. While it is definitely a region to visit and enjoy, when it comes to actual buying, we prefer going off the beaten path.
Vallée de la Marne : The Land of Pinot Meunier
The region holds 2 of the Grand Cru village. Like its cousin Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier is a red grape that can produce red wine. Since its juice is clear, if not macerated with its skin, you can produce white wine. Pinot Meunier tends to bring a bigger spectrum of flavors of fruits and minerals since its body is slightly lighter. In this region, you will experience blend of varietals, but their lead component will be the Pinot Meunier. Coming from Paris, this will be the first region you will drive through, and we would highly advise you to stop by Champagne Dehu. The 17th generation Champagne Maker, Benoît Déhu oriented his vineyard into sustainable, organic and even biodynamic production. His selection is flawless and every step of his farming is done in a thorough manner.
Côte des Blancs: Heaven of Champagne Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay
As its named implies, this sub region which host four of the Grands Cru Villages, produces heavily Chardonnay (95% of their production). Their wines are Blanc de Blanc, meaning single varietal Chardonnay. Their terroir, made of chalk, brings a fantastic minerality and a cleansing acidity that helps pairing with food in a stunning manner. If you leave Reims to go to Dijon you will probably pass by the Côtes des Blancs. You should stop by Champagne Desutels Cuiret, they will be happy to help you discover the magnificence of their champagne at a very affordable price.