Champagne Etiquette

by Lisa Elbert, Tastemaker in Residence

Until I began studying wine, I grouped all sparkling wine into the same category.  While I wouldn’t necessarily refer to all sparkling wine as Champagne, I was unaware of the many different styles and processes used to make these bubbly luxuries.  So, what sets Champagne apart?  And why is it so expensive?

For starters, it is important to know that Champagne is ONLY produced in Champagne, France.  All other sparkling wines, including those produced in other regions of France, are not technically Champagne.  Many of the major production houses of Champagne are located in the city of Reims.  However, there are five regions of Champagne. 

Regions of Champagne:

Montagne de Reims:  prominent grape is Pinot Noir
Vallée de la Marne: prominent grape is Pinot Meunier
Côte des Blancs: prominent grape is Chardonnay
Côte de Sézanne: prominent grape is Chardonnay Côte des Bars (the Aube): prominent grape is Pinot Noir

Secondly, Champagne is comprised of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.  Not all Champagne is comprised all three grapes, and not all Champagne is necessarily a blend, but all Champagne contains at least one of these three grapes.  

Thirdly, Champagne is made through a specific process called Méthode Champenois.  This is also known as the Traditional Method, and many sparkling wine producers use this process for their wines outside of Champagne.  There are other processes that can be used to produce sparkling wine, but Méthode Champenois is the most labor-intensive, most traditional, and most expensive way to make sparkling wine.  In the most abbreviated terms, the Méthode Champenois is a process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles.  

So hopefully it has become more apparent: the personal attention that each and every individual bottle receives during the process is what makes Champagne such a superior, and might I add, costly, product.  Cheers!