Europe & Britain | Food

If it's not from French Champagne, is it really Champagne?

Champers, bubbly, fizzy… No matter what you call it, this iconic wine is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Synonymous with glitz, glamour, and fun, champagne is the star of any toast, celebration, or podium finish. So what is true champagne? We dive into the world of bubbly, from the history of the Champagne region in France to fun facts about this beloved French wine.

Where does true champagne come from?

Champagne isn’t just a special drink – it’s a place! The wine is named after the Champagne region where it’s grown and bottled, located in the northeast of France. The vines here have been producing wine since the Roman era, thanks to the colder climate and the chalky, limestone, well-draining soil that’s perfect for wine-making. 

Today, the vineyards of Champagne span over 84,000 acres through the lush hillsides and plains of the five main growing regions. These include Vallée de la Marne, Montagne de Reims, The Aube, Côte des Blancs, and Côte de Sézanne.

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What makes true champagne different from other sparkling wine?

The only wines that are legally allowed to be named “Champagne” must be bottled within 100 miles of the Champagne region in France. The name is legally protected by European law and an 1891 treaty that requires true champagne to be produced in the Champagne region and made from the Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay grapes grown in this region. 

Small amounts of Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris (called Fromenteau in Champagne) can also be used as well. These northern grapes also offer a higher acidity and lower alcohol levels, both crucial for a high quality sparkling wine.

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What is so special about champagne?

It’s not just the climate, soil, and particular grapes that make champagne so unique. The process of making champagne within this region, known as Méthode Traditionnelle, or the Classic Method, is very complex, expensive, and highly regulated. In short, champagne makers must put the bubbly through a second fermentation that takes place in the bottle. 

The Ancestral Method aka Pétillant Nature is another approved method that uses icy temperatures to halt fermentation while the wine is bottled, then the fermentation is finished later. These processes are very meticulous and laborious, but it results in a delicate, light bubbly with a fresh, fruity taste. It’s also why champagne is so expensive! 

While all true champagne is made with a blend of the same seven grapes using the same methods, they don’t all taste the same! Brut Zero is the driest variety of champagne, while Doux is the sweetest variety of bubbly.

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What is champagne called when it’s not made in Champagne?

There are some sparkling wines made using a similar method outside of Champagne. While they are not true champagne, they can have a similar taste, fizz and bubbly quality.

Crémant – In France, wines that use the same traditional method but are produced in other regions are called ‘crémant. 

Prosecco – Sparkling wines made in Italy, and particularly the Veneto region of Italy, are called Prosecco and have larger bubbles.

Cava – In Spain, Cava is a sparkling wine made with small bubbles and a fresh and creamy taste. 

Sekt – In Austria and Germany, sparkling wines are called Sekt (pronounced zekt).

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The history of Champagne

Although wine has been made in the Champagne region in France for thousands of years, champagne didn’t come on to the scene until the end of the 17th century, when a monk named Dom Perignon invented the modern champagne making process that is still in use today.

By the early 18th century, champagne was taking off. Louis XV allowed bottled champagne to be transported in 1728 and in 1729, Ruinart established the first champagne house. The House of Moët followed in 1743. 

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By the early 19th century, champagne was the beverage of choice in the richest palaces in Europe. Just 50 years later, champagne production was up by 6,500% with 20 million bottles made each year. 

The Champagne region survived heavy bombing during WWI,  with many locals seeking refuge in the tunnel cellars dug by Romans beneath the towns, taking rare bottles of champagne with them. During WWII, Robert-Jean de Vougë, head of Moët & Chandon, negotiated with the Nazis to form the Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne to safeguard champagne production. Champagne sales quadrupled between 1945 and 1966. 

In 1967, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and famously sprayed bottles of champagne into the crowd – a tradition that’s still around today. 

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Fun facts about champagne

World Champagne Day

The world loves champagne so much it even has its own day. World Champagne Day is held on the fourth Friday of October every year and bubbly fans all over the world celebrate by toasting with none other than a glass of champers.

The British love champagne

Over 362 million bottles of champagne were produced in 2018, worth a total of 4.9 billion euros. The United Kingdom is the largest importer, with nearly 27 million bottles imported annually. Cheers to that! 

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Millions of bubbles

We know that champagne is bubbly… But did you know that there are an incredible 49 million bubbles in a standard-sized bottle of champagne? It has three times more gas than beer! And remember – the smaller the bubbles, the higher the quality of the champagne.

Extreme pressure

It takes a lot of pressure to keep all those bubbles locked inside the bottle. In fact, the pressure in a champagne bottle is three times the pressure in an average car tyre! Centuries ago, champagne making could be quite dangerous, and winemakers would often wear iron helmets to prevent injury from any flying bottles. 

Dangerous corks

We might still need to wear those iron helmets! All that extreme pressure means that when the cork is popped, it can reach speeds of 64km/h or more. The furthest distance ever recorded was 54 metres – or half a football field! Because of these high speeds, champagne corks kill more people each year than spiders, with more than 24 fatalities every year. Be careful where you aim that cork!

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Champagne is synonymous with the rich and famous

Champagne rose to fame in the royal palaces of the 19th century… And it’s been loved by celebrities ever since. Queen Victoria loved the bubbly so much she bestowed a royal warrant on champagne in 1861. Winston Churchill was fuelled by champagne, with some saying he drank around 42,000 bottles between 1908 and 1965.

Marilyn Monroe once took a bath in 262.5 litres, or 350 bottles, of champagne! And while James Bond is famous for his martini, he may actually also be a bubbly fan. Champagne bottles have shown up more than 35 times in the Bond movies, with the Bollinger brand being the most popular. The label even produced a limited edition “Spectre” champagne in celebration of the 2015 Bond film.

Have you ever visited the Champagne wineries or enjoyed champagne in France? Let us know in the comments below!

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