Loved by the celebrities and a firm favourite for toasting at celebrations, Champagne is high up there in the glamour stakes. It looks the part and is very easy to drink. But once you get beyond all the glitz, you’ll see there is a lot more to Champagne than just good looks. Not only are there a wide variety of styles to discover but it also makes a great wine for drinking with food.
The Champagne Region
The name Champagne refers to the region from where it is produced. The region of Champagne is the most northerly wine region in France and the “Champenois” (the group of wine producers from the region), are fiercely protective of its heritage. A bottle of Champagne has to be produced in the Champagne region for it to bear the Champagne label. So while many other regions outside of Champagne have adopted its winemaking processes, the wines from these regions are simply classed as sparkling wines. Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco are good examples.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
Three grapes are used to make Champagne, one of which is Chardonnay and, a little more strangely, the others are the two black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The quantity that each grape is used varies according to the style of Champagne, but Pinot Meunier is generally the grape that is used least.
If you come across “Blanc de Blancs”, this is Champagne made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape, while “Blanc de Noirs” is made from either or both of the red grapes. However, both of these fairly rare.
The price of Champagne varies considerably, depending on how it has been made and how old it is.
This is the cheapest Champagne that you’ll come across. This is a type of Champagne that is blended from wines of several years to ensure that a constant style is achieved. Non-vintage Champagne is stored for at least a year before it is sold, and is considered the entry level or house style Champagne.
This style of Champagne is made from a blend of wines from a particular year, when the quality of the wine is good enough to declare a vintage. In this case, the Champagne will have been stored for at least three years. This is likely to cost around twice the price of standard non-vintage Champagne.
Prestige /Deluxe Cuvée
This is a very, very special bottle of Champagne produced in a vintage year. It is the producer’s top quality Champagne and usually costs at least three times more than a non-vintage and possibly double the price of a vintage Champagne. The grapes will have been hand selected and the Champagne will have been left to mature for five to seven years.
Alongside these, many Champagne houses now produce Rosé based Champagne, so if you like a bit of pink in your wine, this will be the one for you.
Brut through to Doux
Champagne comes in varying degrees of sweetness, from very dry through to very sweet. Most commonly you will come across the dry “Brut” style. A slightly drier than normal style, will be labelled “Extra” or “Ultra Brut”. “Sec” is slightly sweeter than Brut, “Demi Sec” is sweeter again or medium-dry, while “Doux” is an intensely sweet and a very rare style of Champagne.
Brands play a huge role in the Champagne world and if you buy from a famous Champagne house, you will probably find yourself paying a premium. If you’re keen to save a little money you might want to try going for a less well known or “own” brand, or Champagne from a smaller Champagne house. Just because you haven’t heard of the name doesn’t mean that it won’t taste as good.
Toast to Fish and Chips
It may be favoured as a pre-dinner drink or an after-dinner toast, but dry Champagne is also a great option for drinking with dinner. And strangely enough, the food that it works really well with is fish and chips! This unusual combination seems to work as the Champagne has a lot of acidity in it, which helps to cut through the oil in the batter and chips – try it if you don’t believe us. If you fancy matching your prized bottle of Champagne with something a little more sophisticated though, sushi, crab, oysters or scallops work just as well.
A slightly sweeter bottle of Champagne tastes good with fruit, such as strawberries or melon.
Choose from a wide selection of champagne here.