Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unit 2 – Day 10: Champagne

In the final lesson of our ten-day tour through France in the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center we studied what is actually one of the “newest” wine regions - Champagne.

In this review I’ll discuss the various methods of producing sparkling wine, the history, distinctives, and various styles of Champagne. I’ll also provide a synopsis on the top large producers and small producers of Champagne that Sommeliers should know about. I’ll then cover the lesson objectives and review 9 wines from Champagne. There is a ton of information to learn about this style of wine and the region, so this will be the longest review (or should I call it a tome?) I have written so far - about 30 pages.

The Geography, Climate and Soils of Champagne

Champagne is located 90 miles northeast of Paris and it is the northernmost wine region in France at the 47th parallel. It is almost as far north as you can go and still ripen grapes. Fortunately for Champagne, they don’t need nor want their grapes to be as ripe as other regions as high acidity plays an important function in their style of winemaking.

Champagne is the only wine region in the world that is devoted exclusively to sparkling wine. There is only ONE appellation and no subdivisions. Certain villages within the region have a cru status; 44 are rated at Premier Cru and 17 are Grand Cru. This system known as the Échelle des Crus (“ladder of growth”) was developed as part of a long distance disbanded system that controlled the price of grapes. There are 5 areas where there are major concentrations of vineyards. The 3 most famous areas, which are the closest to the major production center of Reims and Epernay, are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne (literally “Valley of the Marne”) and the Côte des Blancs. The Côte de Sézanne lies approximately 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) south west of Epernay and the Côte des Bar is over 100 kilometers (62.13 miles) to the south east.

The Soil in Champagne is either chalky or a clay-chalk mixture. The subsoil of most of the vineyards in the Marne department consists of chalk.  There are sandy sub-soils in the area to the west of Reims, Marl in the Aisne and Kimmeridgean Marl in the Côte des Bar. There are several important contributions of the chalky soil in the production of wine. The white chalky soil reflects sunlight back up to the vines and during rainy periods the soil has good water retention due to the capacity of chalk to absorb up to 40% its volume. If there is too much rain then the chalk ensures excellent drainage. During dry periods, moisture in the chalk is available to the vine’s roots and moisture in the subsoil rises to the surface by capillary action; heat from the sun builds up in the soil during the day and is then released during the night.

A Brief History of Champagne

The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in Champagne as early the 5th century and wines from the region were known before medieval times. After the fall of the empire Catholic Churches owned vineyards and monks produced sacramental wine.

Traditionally French kings were anointed in Reims and Champagne wine was served as part of coronation festivities. Winemakers in the region were envious of the reputation of the wines made in Burgundy so they sought to compete by making better wines. However, the cold-continental climate of the region made ripening grapes for red wine challenging resulting in insufficient sugar, tannin and extremely high acidity for quality table wine.

The discovery of sparkling wine in Champagne was unintentional. Winemakers would make their wine but then the cold winter temperatures prematurely halted the fermentation in the cellars, leaving dormant yeast cells in the bottle. Then in the spring the fermentation would start again after it had already been bottled.

The fermentation process converts the sugar in the grape must to alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2), which is normally released. However if the wine is bottled the CO2 is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. At the time they did not have the thick glass bottles that are common today. The consequence of the build up of the pressure from the CO2 caused the bottles to explode in the cellars. If the bottle survived, the wine was found to contain bubbles which the winemakers considered to be a fault as they were trying to compete with the winemakers of Burgundy.

It is commonly believed that Dom Perignon (December 1638 – 14 September 1715) invented sparkling wine, but he was born more than a century later.[1] Although it was unknown to the French in Champagne, sparkling wine was developed in the 17th century by a cider maker from Gloucester, Christopher Merrett. He not only developed the method of fermentation which gives champagne its sparkle he also invented the stronger glass needed to stop the bottles exploding under pressure. In 1632 Merrett (six years before Dom Perignon was born) delivered a paper to the Royal Society in London revealing his discovery. A century later the first champagne house was in France in 1729.[2] However, while the British may want to claim to have invented sparking wine, it was invented by the French a century earlier. The oldest recorded sparkling wine in France is Blanquette de Limoux made from the Mauzac grape. It was invented in 1531 by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne, a city in south-west France.[3]

Although Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine, he did develop many advances in including holding the cork in place with a wire collar (muselet) to withstand the fermentation pressure. He also developed the art of blending different lots together to produce a consistent style.

While the winemakers in Champagne and their clients preferred their wine to be pale and still, the British were developing a taste for the unique bubbly wine. The sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal. Following the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715, the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans made the sparkling version of Champagne a favorite among the French nobility. Subsequently winemakers in Champagne began trying to deliberately produce sparking wine, but they did not know how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.


In the 19th century challenges of sparking wine production were overcome. The widow Madame Clicquot is credited with a great breakthrough in champagne handling that made mass production of the wine possible. In the early 19th century, with the assistance of her cellar master, Antoine de Müller, Clicquot invented the riddling rack that made the crucial process of dégorgement both more efficient and economic. 

Pupitres (Riddling Rack)
Clicquot’s advance involved systematically collecting the spent yeast and sediments left from the wine’s secondary fermentation in the bottle's neck by using a specialised rack. Composed much like a wooden desk with circular holes, the rack allowed a bottle of wine to be stuck sur point or upside down. Every day a cellar assistant would gently shake and twist (remuage) the bottle to encourage wine solids to settle to the bottom. When this was completed the cork was carefully removed, the sediments ejected, and a small replacement dose of sweetened wine added.

Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine on a large scale profitable, and this period saw the founding of many of today's famous Champagne houses, including Krug (1843), Pommery (1858) and Bollinger (1829). The fortunes of the Champenois and the popularity of Champagne grew until a series of setbacks in the early 20th century. Phylloxera appeared, vineyard growers rioted in 1910–11, the Russian and American markets were lost because of the Russian Revolution and Prohibition, and two World Wars made the vineyards of Champagne a battlefield.

The modern era has seen a resurgence of the popularity of Champagne as today it is associated with both luxury and celebration, with sales quadrupling since 1950. Today the region’s 86,500 acres (35,000 ha) produces over 200 million bottles of Champagne with worldwide demand prompting the French authorities to look into expanding the region’s Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) zone to facilitate more production

The Grapes of Champagne

There are three primary grapes that are used in Champagne, the top white grape of Champagne is Chardonnay and the top red grapes are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier:

Chardonnay does not fully ripen in the region and it provides acidic ad extremely light components to the wines. It is most widely planted in the Côte de Blancs and the Côte de Sézanne.

Pinot Noir was originally planted in the region to produce red wines similar to those found in Burgundy but they were unable to compete because the grapes would not fully ripen. It dominates in Montagne de Reims and Côte des Bar. Although this is a red grape, unless a rosé is being produced no skin contacted is allowed. Pinot Noir adds much of the body and fruit character found in Champagne.

Pinot Meunier (pronounced moon YAY) is a descendent of Pinot Noir and dominates in the Vallée de la Marne.  It is the most widely planted varietal in the region as it is heartier in the cooler conditions of Champagne and produces higher yields and contributes significant fruit and acidity to the wines.

The Styles of Champagne

There are six styles of Champagne which describe whether the wines are a blend of vintages or a single vintage, whether it is a special proprietary blend, and whether it was made from white or black grapes:

Non-Vintage Champagne – This may be better understood as multi-vintage Champagne as they are a blend of multiple vintages to produce a house style that represents the winery. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10–15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages.

Vintage Champagne - If the conditions of a particular vintage are favorable, some producers will make a “Vintage” wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage’s harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne. This ensures a consistent style that consumers can expect from non-vintage Champagne that does not alter too radically depending on the quality of the vintage. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as “vintage” since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.

Cuvée de Prestige / Tête de Cuvée - A cuvée de prestige is a proprietary blended wine that is considered to be a producer’s flagship wine. Well-known examples include: Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle, Duval-Leroy's Cuvée Femme and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.

Blanc de NoirsThis literally means “white of blacks” it refers to a white wine produced entirely from black grapes, namely Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Blanc de Blancs - This literally means “white of whites” and is used to designate Champagnes usually made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties.

Rosé Champagne - The rosé wines of Champagne (also known as Pink Champagne) are produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time (known as the saigneé method) or by blending a amount of still Pinot Noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvee. Rosé Champagne is the only wine in France that allows the production of Rosé to be created by blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible color, allowing a constant Rosé color from year-to-year.

Sparkling Wine Production Methods

There are several methods of creating sparkling wine. In Champagne only The Traditional Method may be used. The other methods may be used by other regions and in producing sparkling wines (Asti, Cava, Lambrusco, Prosecco, Sekt) in other countries. The different methods are as follows:

Carbonation - This method injects CO2 into a still wine. It adds bubbles but does not otherwise alter the wine.

The Transfer Method - In the transfer method the contents of the bottle are disgorged into a tank under pressure, filtered in bulk and then rebottled into a fresh bottle. On the labels of wines using this method may say “Bottle-fermented” while the traditional method wines may say “Fermented in THIS bottle” although it is more likely to say “traditional method” or méthode traditionnelle.

Charmat Method - Most of the inexpensive sparkling wine consumed in the world is by the tank method, also referred to as cuve close or the Charmat method. In this method the second fermentation take place in a tank rather than in the bottle. Most wines made in this method none of the subtlety of the flavor imparted by yeast autolysis because the wine does not spend sufficient time on the lees.

Méthode Rural – Also referred to as the Asti Method, it differs as it does not involve making a still dry wine. The wine is made in tanks and the CO2 is released until the alcohol level reaches 6%. At this point the CO2 is retained. The ferment is continued until the alcohol has reached 7-7.5% abv and the pressure close to 5 atmospheres.

The Traditional Method (Méthode Traditionelle) - This used to be referred to as the Méthode Champenoise. However, in order to protect the “Champagne” name and restrict it to only that which is actually produced in the Champagne of France this is now referred to as the Traditional Method (Méthode Traditionelle). The process is as follows:

(1) Harvest and Pressing - In order to avoid damaging the grapes and running the risk of coloring the juice, mechanical harvesting is forbidden; grapes are neither de-stemmed nor crushed and they are pressured as quickly as possible. Traditionally all grapes were pressed in a shallow vertical press called a Coquard Press and they are still widely used along with modern pneumatic presses. In order to maintain quality only 102 liters can be extracted from 160 kilograms of grapes. The first 82 liters is called the Cuvée and the remaining 20 liters is called the Taille. The best Champagne will be made solely from the Cuvée.

(2) Primary Fermentation - The best producers will store and ferment the Cuvée and the taille from each grape variety separately. Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats, but some still use oak vats and barrels. Prior to fermentation the juice is clarified to minimize the development of savory non-fruit flavors. The resulting base wine is completely dry with a neutral flavor character, high acidity and moderate alcohol. Most wines undergo MLF with some notable exceptions. Most base wine is used to make up blends the year after harvest.  However, some wine is stored in inert containers for use in future years. These reserve wines have an important role to play in the blending process.

(3) Blending - Blenders aim to produce a wine that conforms to a house style. The large producers can use as many as 70 wines in their blends.

(4) Secondary Fermentation - Once the blend is made up a small proportion of liqueur de tirage (a syrupy mixture of wine, sugar and yeast) is added before it is bottled. The bottle is then closed with a crown cap with a plastic cup shape insert. The bottles are then stacked horizontally in cellars where the temperature is between 10-12°C. The Secondary Fermentation then takes 6-8 weeks to complete. The slow fermentation also encourages flavor development. The alcohol is raised by 1.5-2% abv and the CO2, generated by the yeast, dissolves into the wine creating bubbles. This creates a pressure in the bottle equivalent to 6 atmospheres.

(5) Yeast Autolysis – Once the fermentation is complete the yeast die and form a sediment of lees in the bottle. Over a period of months or years, these dead yeast cells start to break down released proteins and other chemical compounds into the wine, a process called Yeast Autolysis. These compounds contribute to the flavor of the wine, especially bread, biscuit and toast notes.

(6) Riddling - After aging, the lees must be consolidated for removal. The bottles undergo a process known as riddling (remuage in French). In this stage, the bottles are placed on special racks called pupitres that hold them at a 45° angle, with the crown cap pointed down. Once a day (every two days for Champagne), the bottles are given a slight shake and turn, alternatively on right then left, and dropped back into the pupitres, with the angle gradually increased. The drop back into the rack causes a slight tap, pushing sediments toward the neck of the bottle. In 10 to 14 days (8 to 10 weeks for Champagne), the position of the bottle is straight down, with the lees settled in the neck. (This time can be shortened by moving the bottle more than once a day, and/or by using modern, less sticky strains of yeast.) Manual riddling is still done for Prestige Cuvées in Champagne, but has otherwise been largely abandoned because of the high labor costs. Mechanized riddling equipment (a gyropalette) is used instead.

(7) Dosage, Corking - Immediately after disgorging but before final corking, the liquid level is topped up with liqueur d'expédition, commonly a little sugar, a practice known as dosage. The liqueur d'expédition is a mixture of the base wine and sucrose, plus 0.02 to 0.03 grams of sulfur dioxide as a preservative. The amount of sugar in the liqueur d'expédition determines the sweetness of the Champagne, the sugar previously in the wine having been consumed in the second fermentation. Generally, sugar is added to balance the high acidity of the Champagne, rather than to produce a sweet taste. Brut Champagne will only have a little sugar added, and Champagne called nature or zéro dosage will have no sugar added at all. A cork is then inserted, with a capsule and wire cage securing it in place. Champagne's sugar content varies.

(8) Bottle Aging - Quality-conscious producers will then age the wine for a few months to allow the liqueur d'expédition to integrate with the wine which is then considered ready to drink when released. The yeasty character of Champagne continues to develop after disgorgement. For wines with dosage the sugars react with the proteins released during yeast autolysis creating new and complex aromas of biscuit, honey, walnut and toast. Wines without dosage also continue to develop but this method is relatively modern. Knowing the disgorgement date is important as it indicates the level of development.

Sweetness Levels

In order to produce wines that are crisp with high acidity, Champagne grapes are harvested what would be under ripe in other regions.  The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation and aging varies and will dictate the sweetness level of the Champagne. The labels that indicate the level of dryness to sweetness can be a little confusing and the levels of sugar can overlap:

Brut Natural or Brut Zéro = Bone Dry, 0-3 grams of sugar per litre

Extra Brut = Very dry, 0-6 grams of sugar per litre

Brut = Very dry, 0-12 grams of sugar per litre

Extra Dry = 12-17 grams of sugar per litre

Sec = Dry, 17-32 grams of sugar per litre

Demi-Sec = Half-dry, 32-50 grams of sugar per litre

Doux = Sweet, 50+ grams of sugar per litre

Champagne Producers and Distribution

The Champagne Trade - Champagne is an expensive luxury item, more so than other wines, that increases and decreases with consumer demand. Knowing the customer demand then is very important. Since the collapse of the Échelle des Crus system managing divergent needs of growers and producers is one of the most important and challenging roles of the regions generic body the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC)

Growers - The majority of the 19,000 growers sell their grapes to either a cooperative or to one of the Champagne Houses or négociants. In order to avoid dependence on Champagne Houses nearly 5,000 growers sell their own Champagne although many have their wine made for them by a co-operative. Most growers have vineyards in Grand Cru or Premier Cru rated villages. Grower Champagnes account for 25% of total production, most of which is sold in France although some are building a reputation on export markets – especially in the USA.

Champagne Houses - There are nearly 300 Champagne Houses who account for 67% of the Champagne that is produced. Two-thirds of this is made by a small number of producers. However, between all of them they only own 12% of the vineyard area and by law are unable to significantly increase their holdings. This shows the extent to which they are dependent on the growers and cooperatives for the grapes for their base wine.

Co-Operatives - They process at one stage or another over 50% that is produced. However, only 8% of Champagne on the market carries the label of a co-operative. The rest is sold either as must or a base wine to Champagne Houses, back to the growers or as ‘buyers own brands’ (BOBs) for supermarket and other retail outlets.

Champagne Producer Codes - Champagne producers are very secretive about their house styles and exclusive as to who may produce wine. In order to shy away from openly revealing who and how the wine is being produced they have developed the following code which the buyer must know in order to figure out the relationship between the grower of the grapes and the maker of the wine:

CM = Coopérative de Manipulant (Made by Co-op)

NM = Négociant-Manipulant  (Producer Bought Grapes)

RM = Récoltant-Manipulant (Producer Grew Grapes)

RC = Récoltant-Coopérateur (Producer grew grapes but wine was made by co-op)

MA = Marque d’Acheteur (Buyer’s own brand)

SR = Sociéte de Récoltant (Company of related growers)

NR = Négociant-Distributeur (Distributor)

Non-Sparkling AOCs in Champagne

While Champagne is most well known today for producing sparkling wines, originally it was a dry wine region and there are two Non-Sparkling wine AOCs today:

Coteaux Champenois AOC - This covers the same area as sparkling Champagne production, but covers only still wines. The grapes are the same as those allowed for sparkling Champagne: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for red wines, and Chardonnay for whites.

Rosé des Ricey AOC – This AOC is in the three villages of Les Riceys, a commune in the Aube département in the Champagne province of France. The wines are all rosé, produced from the Pinot Noir grape. They are either fermented in stainless steel tanks for early drinking or in wood allowing longer ageing. They have a distinctive taste known to the French as goût des Riceys.

Top Big Champagne Producers

In addition to understanding where and how Champagne is produced, Sommeliers are expected to know the top producers as well. While a Sommelier wouldn’t be expected to know everything about all of them, the Somm should at be least acquainted them and get to know the ones on the wine list well. The following are the top large producers:

Billecart-Salmon is a medium-sized champagne house in Mareuil-sur-Ay, France. It was founded in 1818 with the marriage of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. It is one of the few to remain family owned. The Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1959 won first place in the Champagne of the Millennium 1999, out of 150 of the finest 20th century champagnes. A magnum of the winning champagne later sold for £3,300 ($5,375).

Bollinger produces several labels of Champagne under the Bollinger name, including the vintage Vieille Vignes Françaises, Grand Année and R.D. as well as the non-vintage Special Cuvée. Founded in 1829 in Aÿ by Hennequin de Villermont, Paul Renaudin and Jacques Bollinger, the house continues to be run by members of the Bollinger family. In Britain Bollinger Champagnes are affectionately known as “Bolly”.

Gosset is the oldest wine house in Champagne. It was founded in 1584 by Pierre Gosset. Gosset wines are made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The house is known for its slightly sweet Brut Excellence and its vintage prestige cuvee Célebris and Grand Millésime. The house also produced a commemorative wine the Quatrième Centenaire

Jacquesson is based in the Dizy region of Champagne. The house was founded in Châlons-sur-Marne in 1798 by Memmie Jacquesson making it the oldest independent Champagne house. The reputation of the house grew after it was rumored that it was a favorite of Napoleon, who bestowed upon the house a gold medal for its fine cellars. The Champagne house Juglar was absorbed into Jacquesson in 1829. By 1867 annual sales of Jacquesson bottles had reached one-million but a period of decline followed the death of Adolphe Jacquesson, inventor of the muselet (wire collar) when the descendants ceased to continue the family business, and ownership changed hands over several decades, until in 1974 when it was bought by Jean Chiquet. Today it is directed with brothers Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet. Jacquesson vineyards are located in the Grand Cru villages of Aÿ, Avize and Oiry and in the Premier Cru villages of Dizy, Hautvillers and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, with approximately 15% of the fruit sourced from growers in these villages as well as the Grand Cru village of Chouilly and the Premier Cru village Cumières. The main wine is a numbered cuvée, for example Cuvée 733, which is a blend of 2005 vintage with 30-40% older reserve wines. Other wines are vintages, the best known from Avize Grand Cru and single vineyard wines from Ay, Dizy and Avize.

Krug was founded by Joseph Krug in 1843. It is based principally in Reims, the main city in France’s Champagne region and is one of the famous Champagne houses that formed part of the Grande Marques. Today the house is majority owned by the multinational conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton S.A. whose portfolio includes other wine known wine brands such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Château d'Yquem and Ruinart. Despite LVMH’s majority ownership, the Krug family is still actively involved in all the key decisions of the house but does not manage the day-to-day operations.

Pol Roger was founded in 1849 and the brand is still owned and run by the descendants of Pol Roger. It based around the town of Épernay in the Champagne region and the annually produces around 110,000 cases of sparkling wine. he house's prestige label is the vintage Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. They also release three non-vintage cuvées, the Pure Brut, Brut Réserve and Rich (sweet), as well as three other vintage wines, the Brut Vintage, Blanc de blancs and Rosé Vintage. Pol Roger Brut Vintage is typically a blend of about 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.

Louis Roederer was founded as Dubois Père & Fils in 1776. Louis Roederer inherited the company from his uncle in 1833 and renamed it in 1776. With concentrated efforts in several countries, including Russia. Tsar Nicholas II nominated Louis Roederer as the official wine supplier to the Imperial Court of Russia. Though the Russian Revolution and the U.S. Prohibition caused financial difficulties during the early 20th century, Roederer was re-established as a leading Grandes Marques producer and remains in descendants’ Rouzaud ownership. Cristal is a precursor prestige cuvée brand and was made commercially available in 1945. Two-thirds of the grapes needed for production are sourced from a 214 hectares (530 acres) vineyard and the remaining third is sourced from established farming contacts. The Roederer non-vintage cuvées include the extra dry Brut Premier, Grand Vin Sec and the demi-sec Carte Blanche, all Pinot noir and Chardonnay blended approximately in 2:1 proportion, with a small portion of Pinot Meunier. The vintage cuvées include the Brut Vintage, Rosé Vintage, with Pinot noir and Chardonnay in an approximately 7:3 proportion, and the 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs. The rosé is made by red wine addition rather than by saignée method. The prestige cuvée Cristal, approximately an equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is also available as a rosé, which contains more Pinot noir and is also made by addition of red wine. The total annual production of Roederer is approximately 3.2 million bottles, of which 70-80% is Louis Roederer Brut Premier.

Champagne Salon produces sparkling wine in the blanc de blancs style. The winery was founded by Eugène Aimé Salon in the early 20th century. Salon became convinced that the Chardonnay grapes from the Le Mesnil-sur-Oger vineyards could produce wine with the desirable levels of finesse and elegance without the need to add Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Around the turn of the 20th century, he began producing a Chardonnay-only cuvée that he shared privately with friends. The first commercial vintage of Champagne Salon was in 1921 and by 2006, the house has released only 37 vintages under the Salon label. Following Eugène’s death in 1943, his sister inherited the company which was eventually sold to Laurent-Perrier in 1989. Since then, Salon is effectively part of the combined Salon-Delamotte house.

Champagne Taittinger was originally Château de la Marquetterie which was founded in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux. Jacques worked closely with the Benedictine Abbeys who owned the finest vineyards in the region. After the WWI, the wine-house was moved to a large mansion on the Rue de Tambour. In 1932, Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux. The vineyards of the château had been planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the 18th Century. This property had been developed by Brother Jean Oudart, a Benedictine monk, one of the founding fathers of champagne wine, and later it had belonged to the writer Jacques Cazotte. From 1945 to 1960 the business was run by Pierre’s third son François. Under his direction, the Taittinger cellars were established in the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise, built in the thirteenth century in Gallo-Roman chalk pits dating from the fourth century. After François’ death his brother Claude took over and directed the business from 1960 to 2005. It was during this time that Taittinger became a champagne house of world renown. Champagne Taittinger was sold in July 2005 by the Taittinger family, along with its subsidiary Société du Louvre, to the U.S. hotel group Starwood. On 31 May 2006, the Northeast Regional Bank of the Crédit Agricole, in collaboration with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, bought the business for 660 million euros ($906,444,000 U.S. dollars). The area covers 288.84 hectares (713.73 acres) of vineyards and has 12 to 13 million bottles in stock. The Château de la Marquetterie and its cellars were part of the overall purchase. The Starwood group retained some hotels, including luxury hotels Crillon, Lutetia and Martinez, and the hotel chains Campanile and Kyriad. Claude Taittinger retired in 2006 and his nephew Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger replaced him as head of the business.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is a champagne house based in Reims. In 1772, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron established the original enterprise which in time became the house of Veuve Clicquot. In 1775, it was credited to be the first Champagne house to produce Rosé Champagne, and the method of adding red wine during the production of Rosé Champagne. Philippe’s son, François Clicquot, married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1798 and died in 1805, leaving his widow (veuve in French) in control of a company variously involved in banking, wool trading, and Champagne production. 

She became the first woman to take over a Champagne house. Under Madame Clicquot’s guidance the firm focused entirely Champagne production. During the Napoleonic Wars, Madame Clicquot made strides in establishing her wine in royal courts throughout Europe, notably that of Imperial Russia, thus becoming the first Champagne House to ship Champagne past The Blockade to Russia in 1811. The 1811 comet vintage of Veuve Clicquot is theorized to have been the first truly “modern” Champagne due to the advancements in the méthode champenoise which Veuve Clicquot pioneered through the technique of remuage. With the assistance of her cellar master, Antoine de Müller, Clicquot invented the riddling rack that made the crucial process of dégorgement both more efficient and economic. By the time she died in 1866 Veuve Clicquot had become both a substantial Champagne house and a respected brand. Easily recognized by its distinctive bright yellow labels, the wine holds a royal warrant of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Since 1987 the Veuve Clicquot company has been part of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group of luxury brands, and today owns a controlling interest in New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Vineyards.

Top Small Champagne Producers

The following are the top small Champagne producers:

Pierre Peters Champagne - For six generations the Pierre Péters Estate has been home in the heart of the Côte des Blancs in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger where they have been producing Champagne Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, since 1919. The grapes come exclusively from their own vineyards and they currently operate just over 18 hectares (44.5 acres) of Chardonnay, mainly located in the communes of Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant.

Pierre Gimonnet Champagne - Didier Gimonnet is the second generation of growers to direct this superb estate, with 28 hectares (69 acres) of holdings in grand and premier cru villages, predominantly in the Côte de Blancs. The winery is in the premier cru village of Cuis where Didier’s family has been growing grapes since 1750. Pierre Gimonnet, Dider’s Grandfather, started bottling estate champagnes in 1935. In addition to the 13.5 hectares (33 acres) in Cuis, Gimonnet owns 11 hectares (27 acres) of Chardonnay vines in the grand cru villages of Cramant and Chouilly, plus another hectare (2.47 acres) in Oger and two in Vertus. Gimonnet also owns half a hectare of Pinot Noir (1.23 acres), split between the grand cru of Aÿ and 1er cru of Mareuil-sur Aÿ. The high percentage of old vines at this estate sets it apart in a region suffering from a plethora of very young vineyards. About 70% of Gimonnet’s  holdings are over 30 years old, of which some 40% are over 40 years old, with 100+ year old vines in the lieux-dits of Le Fond du Bateau, planted in 1911, and Buisson planted in 1913, both in the Grand Cru village of Cramant. The annual production is about 20,000 cases and the vines consist of 98% chardonnay and 2% Pinot Noir

Cédric Bouchard Champagne - Cédric Bouchard began his career in 2000 with only 1.37 hectares (3.38 acres) of vines in the village of Celles-sur-Ource in the Côte des Bar region of Champagne. Eight years later he was awarded the title of Champagne’s finest winemaker for the year 2008 by one of the most influential French restaurant guides, the Gault Millau. Bouchard focuses on single vineyard bottlings of a single variety (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc), and single vintage cuveés. Each wine is made only from juice from the first pressing, fermented only with indigenous yeast.  Cédric farms organically, dramatically restricts yields (among the lowest in Champagne) and places extra emphasis on picking at the optimum moment. There are three distinct bottlings from his own vineyards which are all bottled under his Roses de Jeanne label. Bouchard has grown his initial holdings by working 1.47 hectares (3.63 acres) of vines owned by his father from which he produces Blanc de Noirs cuvées bottled under the Champagne Inflorescence label. The two distinct lineups include the following wines:

Inflorescence Val Vilaine – This wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir from the 1.5 hectare lieu-dit of Val Vilaine with a total production of 300-500 cases annually.

Inflorescence La Parcelle -  This wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir from the 1.5 hectare lieu-dit of Côte de Bachelin. Spends a full three years on the lees is always bottled as a vintage cuvee with a total production of 150 cases produced annually.

Roses de Jeanne Les Ursules - This wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir from the .9 hectare lieu-dit of Les Ursules.  This wine is currently unavailable as Bouchard aims to release it as a vintage bottling in 2014 and it is resting sur lie. Approximately 250-300 cases are produced annually.

Roses de Jeanne La Haute-Lemblée - This wine is made from 100% Chardonnay (five different clones) from the .12 hectare lieu-dit of La Haute Lemblée. Extremely limited production.

Roses de Jeanne Bolorée - This wine is made from very old and rare Pinot Blanc from a 0.217 hectare lieu-dit known as La Boloree. Extremely limited production.

Roses de Jeanne Le Creux d’Enfer Rosé - This wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir from  a few rows on the .07 hectare lieu-dit of Le Creux d'Enfer. Made by the “saignée” method. Extremely limited production.

Margaine Champagne – In 1989 Arnaud Margaine took over a 6.5 hectare (16.06 acres) estate known as the Villers-Marmery from his father Bernard and he is the 4th generation of his family to work these vineyards in the Mogntagne de Reims. Villers-Marmery is a vineyard of Chardonnay, surrounded by Pinot Noir vineyards, that is used to create Blanc de Blancs. The clone of Chardonnay grown in this vineyard is unique to this area and cannot be found anywhere else Champagne. The estate was founded in the 1920s by Bernard Margaine and was expanded by in the 1950s. The majority of Margaine’s holdings are in the village of Villers-Marmery, a 95% village for Chardonnay, and the parcels here are old averaging about 32 years. Margaine also has a small parcel of Pinot Noir in the village of Verzy. The annual production is about 5,800 cases and their vineyard holdings consist of 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Poir.

Gatinois Champagne - The Champagne house of Gatinois is located in the village of Äy, in the Vallée de Marne. Äy is one of the most important villages in all of Champagne, all of the vineyards are Grand Cru and it is considered one of the very top sources for Pinot Noir in the Champagne region. Since the 1980s Pierre Cheval-Gatinois has been head of the house and he oversees the vineyards that are just over 7 hectares (17.29 acres) that the family owns in Äy. For many years the family primarily made its living as grape growers, with much of its production earmarked each year to be sold to Bollinger. Monsieur Cheval-Gatinois continues to sell of about half of his crop to the Grande Marques, including Bollinger, to this day, but with each passing year he is bottling more of his production on his own. His family have been vignerons in the region for 11 generations. The Gatinois house style of Champagne is classic for wines produced primarily from fruit from the village of Äy. They rely heavily on Pinot Noir (90%) in the blends for all of the various Gatinois cuvees and the Brut Millésime made of 100% Pinot Noir. The Gatinois lineup begins with their full-bodied non-vintage brut bottling which is called Brut Tradition. It is made up of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The wine is aged for three years prior to release and it has the ability to improve with age for 12 to 15 years after release. The next step up in the Gatinois hierarchy is their non-vintage Brut Réserve (90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay), which is also made from the Gatinois’ grand cru holdings. The Brut Réserve is made quite traditionally, with hand riddling and hand disgorgement prior to release, and includes a very significant percentage of older reserve wines in the blend to build complexity and depth in the finished wine. In top vintages Monsieur Gatinois also makes a Brut Millésime, which made from one 100% Äy Pinot Noir. This cuvée, in years when it is produced, also receives the lion’s share of the family’s production of the special Pinot Noir clone that originated in Äy and which has made the village famous for this grape, which is called Petit Pinot d’ Äy. This strain of Pinot Noir is considered the finest in all of Champagne, producing finer, more complex and often longer-lived wines. Finally, they also produce a non-vintage Brut Rosé, which is made from 90% to 100% Pinot Noir and made by the addition of a small percentage of still red wine from a small block of 60 year-old Pinot Noir vines rather than from a short skin contact once the grapes are pressed. The Gatinois Champagne house produces only 2,200 cases of wine each year.

Egly-Ouriet Champagne - Founded in 1930, Francis Egly is the fourth generation in the family to produce wine, having taken over from his father Michel in the early 1980s.  He stopped selling most of the fruit to the ‘négoce’ or big houses.  Egly-Ouriet (along with Selosse and Larmandier-Bernier) is one of the few growers who follows biodynamic, organic or “living soil” principals of viticulture. Egly had the good fortune to marry a woman who inherited almost as much land as he did, and their vineyard holdings now total over 30 acres. The estate is now some 12 hectares (29 acres), 8 of which are in Grand Cru Ambonnay itself, 2 hectares (4.9 acres) in Premier CruVrigny on the Petite Montagne (all old vine Pinot Meunier), 1 hectare (2.47 acres) in Verzenay (Grand Cru) and 1 hectare (2.47 acres) in Bouzy (Grand Cru), next door to Ambonnay.  So it is all grand cru except for the Vrigny fruit.  The grape proportions are some 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, as well as the Meunier from Vrigny. Apart from Vrigny, these are all 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir areas. Egly-Ouriet also produces a Ambonnay Rouge, a 100 % Pinot Noir dry red.

Vilmart Champagne – In 1890 Désiré Vilmart founded Vilmart and it has always been a récoltant-manipulant (RM), making Champagne exclusively from estate-owned vines. Since 1989 the estate has been in the hands of Laurent Champs, the 5th generation of the family to take the helm of the house. The majority of Vilmart's 11 hectares (27 acres) of vines lie in Rilly-la-Montagne, although there are a few plots just over the border in the neighboring village of Villers-Allerand. Vilmart is a member of Ampelos, an organization that promotes organic and sustainable viticulture, and Champs has never used any herbicides or chemical fertilizers since taking over the estate. Their annual production is about 8,500 cases and their 11 hectares (27 acres) of vines are planted to 60% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir, 4% Pinot Meunier.

Chartogne-Taillet Champagne - The vineyards of Merfy are 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) north of Reims, lie on the southern slopes of the Massif de Saint-Thierry in the Montagne de Reims.  These slopes were planted shortly after the arrival of the Romans and monks of the neighboring Abbey of Saint-Thierry expanded the vineyards in the 7th century.  By the 9th century, the vines surrounding the abbey represented the single largest concentration of vines in Champagne and the wines from Merfy earned a great reputation and found their way to the Royal table. Chartogne-Taillet is based in Merfy, where the majority of the estate’s holdings are, and remains the only récoltant-manipulant (RM) producer in the village.  The soil in Merfy is clay, sand and sandstone over chalk. Alexandre vinifies each parcel individually some in stainless steel and a growing number in neutral barrique. The family's holdings in Merfy include the Chemin de Reims vineyard, a site mentioned in viticultural writings from the ninth century. Today, chardonnay from the Chemin de Reims vineyard is used in Chartogne-Taillet’s tête de cuvée, Cuvee Fiacre. This cuvee is named for Fiacre Taillet, born in the beginning of the 18th century, who kept records of wine making almost three hundred years ago. This tradition is carried on by Alexandre Chartogne today. The total vineyard holdings are 11.68 hectares (28.86 acres) with an annual production of about 6,700 cases from vines that consist of 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and10% Pinot Meunier.

Jean Milan Champagne - Caroline Milan is the 4th generation of the family to direct this estate; it was founded in 1864 by Jean Milan, her great-great-grandfather. Today Milan controls 6 hectares (14 acres) of vines averaging 43 years, spread over 42 different parcels, all in the grand cru of Oger which sits between the hills of Mesnil and Cramant. The Annual production is about 10,900 cases from vines planted to 100% Chardonnay

Learning Objectives of Unit 2 - Day 10: Champagne

At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. Learning Objectives for Unit 2 - Day 10 along with the answers are as follows.

By the end of class, students should be able to:

(1)  Name the grapes of Champagne

Answer The most well-known grapes include: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. But Fromenteau, Pinot Blanc, Petite Meslier and Petite Arbanne are also permitted.

(2)  Name the Grand Cru Villages of Champagne

Answer Montagne de Reims: Sillery, Puisieulx, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Louvois, Bouzy, Ambonnay, Verzy, Mailly-Champagne, Verzy Vallée de la Marne: Aÿ, Tours-sur-Marne, Côte des Blancs: Chouilly, Oiry, Cramant, Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

(3)  Describe the riddling process (rummage)

Answer: A process of gradually settling of lees in a Champagne bottle in which it is incrementally made vertical which moves the yeast to the neck of the bottle before discorgement. The bottles are placed on special racks called pupitres that hold them at a 45° angle, with the crown cap pointed down. Once a day (every two days for Champagne), the bottles are given a slight shake and turn, alternatively on right then left, and dropped back into the pupitres, with the angle gradually increased. The drop back into the rack causes a slight tap, pushing sediments toward the neck of the bottle. In 10 to 14 days (8 to 10 weeks for Champagne), the position of the bottle is straight down, with the lees settled in the neck.

(4)  Describe the difference between Extra Brut and Extra Dry
Answer: Extra Brut has 0-6 grams of sugar per litre and Extra Dry has 12-17 grams of sugar per litre.

(5)  Explain the term tête de cuvée and give an example

Answer: A tête de cuvée is a proprietary blended wine that is considered to be a producer’s flagship wine such as Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon.

(6)  State the minimum sur lie and total aging for NV and Vintage Champagne.

Answer: NV is 18 months, Vintage is 3 years.

(7) Identify the term for adding sugar just prior to bottling.

Answer: Dosage

(8) Explain the meaning of Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs

Answer: “Blanc de Noirs” is “white from black” which is a white Champagne made from dark skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Blancs is “white from white” which is a white Champagne made from white grapes such as Charodnnay.

(9) Describe the attributes of any wine we tasted today

Answer: See below:

The Wines

On the tenth day of Unit 2 we tasted the following 9 wines:

1. NV Besserat Bellefon, Brut

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, straw in color with medium- viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of pear, apple, chalk and toasted bread. On the palate it is has flavors of baked apples, lemon and baking spices. It is dry with medium+ acidity, light body, moderate complexity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for about $20 - $24.

2. NV Lancelot-Pienne, Cuvee da la Table Ronde, Grand Cru, Brut

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, straw in color, medium concentration with medium- viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of brioche, peanuts, green apples, vanilla bean and a chalk. On the palate it is has flavors of tart green apples, a hint of cherry, vanilla and chalk. It is dry with medium+ acidity, light body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $35 - $37.

3. NV Milan, Tendresse, Blanc de Blancs, Sec

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, pale-yellow in color, star-bright, medium concentration with medium- viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of red apples, pears, toasted bread and a hint of white flowers. On the palate it has flavors of red apples, tangy orange and tangerine, Asian spears, and vanilla. It is dry with some residual sugar, medium+ acidity, light body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $54.

4. NV Louis Roederer, Brut Premier

This is a clear white wine, star-bright, straw in color, medium concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lime pith, hints of tropical fruits, tarragon, and chalk. On the palate it has flavors tangy citrus, lime, chalk and Wrigley’s chewing gum. It is dry with some residual sugar, medium+ acidity, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length chalky finish. This wine sells for about $39.

5. NV Serge Mathieu, Rosé, Brut

This is a clear wine, star-bright, blood-orange to peach in color, medium concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of cherry, strawberry, tarragon, cheese rind, and bread dough. On the palate it has flavors of tart cherries, under ripe strawberries, hints of spice and cheese rind. It is dry medium+ acidity, surprisingly gripping medium tannins, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length chalky and spicy finish. I don’t think the amount of tannin is intentional or normal for this style of wine, so I’d have to give this wine a “pass.” This wine sells for about $45.

6. 2006 Le Noble, Premier Cru, Blanc de Noirs, Brut

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, yellow-gold in color, medium concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of fresh and dried fruits, dried loquat, pencil shavings, vanilla, and a hint of hazelnut. On the palate it has flavors of cooked apples, loquats, vanilla and hazelnut. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium- tannins, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish with lingering notes of vanilla. This wine sells for about $47.

7. 2005 Pierre Gimonnet, Special Club, Brut

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, straw in color, low concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of white peach, yellow apples, pears, melon and a hint of nuts. On the palate it is creamy with flavors of dried pears, peach, candied ginger, cheese, vanilla, almonds and a hint of chalk. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish with lingering notes of vanilla. It is well balanced and it is the texture of the wine that makes it so very appealing. This wine was one of my favorites in the line-up, it sells for about $84.

8. 2002 Bollinger, La Grande Annee, Brut

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, straw in color, medium concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of oxidized apples, cream, and toasty bread crust. On the palate it is rich with flavors of toasted bread, cream, canned tropical fruit, and honey. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish with lingering notes of toasted and vanilla. It is well balanced and it is the rich mouth feel of the wine that makes it so very appealing. This wine was one of my favorites in the line-up, it sells for about $100 - $105.

9. 2009 Tattinger, Comtes de Champage, Blanc de Blancs

This is a clear white wine, day-bright, straw in color, medium concentration with medium viscosity and obvious gas bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of dried peaches, cheese rind, gunflint, toasted white bread and chalk. On the palate it is rich with flavors of toasted bread, cream, canned tropical fruit, and honey. It is dry with some residual sugar, medium+ acidity, medium body, medium+ complexity and a prolonged finish. This wine sells for about $166.


I have to admit, I’m not the biggest sparkling wine fan. They seem to be more about production than terroir, more about bubbles, texture and yeasty notes than fruit, spice, earth and other elements of wine that I enjoy. The two wines that I did enjoy were the 2005 Pierre Gimonnet and the 2002 Bollinger, La Grande. But for $84 and $100+ I can think of a thousand other wines that I’d rather buy.

[1] The oldest recorded sparkling wine in France is Blanquette de Limoux which was invented in 1531 by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne, a city in south-west France.
[3] E. McCarthy and M. Ewing-Mulligan, French Wine for Dummies (Wiley Publishing 2001), 222.

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