The most famous sparkling wine in the world is produced in a region located, in most cases, in the departments of Marne, Aube and Aisne, in northeastern France.
The northern climate makes it more difficult to mature grapes. However, by a complex know-how, winegrowers and producers created a method which compensates for the strong acidity of the grapes. This effervescence or prise de mousse harmonizes the wine in mouth and expresses the cretaceous taste of the grapes from this very calcareous soil.
Three grape varieties share this huge 32.000 hectare vineyard:
The chardonnay brings freshness, delicacy, minerality and nerve when blended with the two other grape varieties. It gives aromas of hazelnut and toasted almond, of toasted bread and brioche. Vatfuls of 100 percent chardonnay, very appreciated by the amateurs, are called blanc de blancs.
The pinot noir makes for strong, fruity and powerful wines. On the other hand, it is often mediocre in a short year.
The pinot meunier accomplishes fruity, not very sour wines and quick aromatic development. In an assemblage, it serves as a link between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.
For the most part, champagnes are an assemblage of these three grape varieties. In general, they are offered as "brut" (less than 12 grams of sugar). Champagnes are also labelled as non dosé [not dosed], extra brut, brut, dry and demi-sec [half dry], and sec which is the sweetest.
The best champagnes are vintaged. The best vintages are offered in millésimées, made entirely from a single vintage.
Pink champagne has an originality. It is the only French wine which it is allowed to made with a mixture of red wine and white wine.
The grand terroirs of champagne
The big valley of the Marne :
From Cumières to Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, the soil, less cretaceous and loamier, gives the most sought-after pinot noirs.
The Côte des blancs :
In the south of Epernay up to Vertus, the cretaceous soil is very suitable for chardonnay.
The Montagne de Reims :
Partially exposed to the north, this is the coldest area of the Champagne region. They cultivate the three grape varieties there, but this climate succeeds best with pinot noir.
The most southernmost zone produces well-built, rich pinot noirs, with a strong character of terroir. The one exception is the area of Riceys where the pinot noir is of a special delicacy there.