Curious to explore the fascinating world of Champagne?
Since the 19th century, this bubbly drink has been seen as a symbol of exceptional quality, celebration, and luxury! This regal sparkling wine is highly valued by wine enthusiasts, collectors, and investors alike.
But what makes Champagne such a coveted drink? How does it taste, and why is it so expensive? What’s the difference between champagne and other sparkling wines?
Let’s explore all about Champagne - its origins, how it’s made, the best Champagne wines in 2021, and the easiest way to buy them.
This Article Contains:
(Click on the links below to go to a specific section)
- What is Champagne?
- The Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine
- The Origins of Champagne
- The Champagne Region
- How is Champagne Made?
- How to Distinguish among Champagne producers from the Labels
- Champagne Styles
- Champagne Sweetness
- Champagne Taste and Food Pairings
- How to Serve Champagne
- Why is Champagne so Expensive?
- Is Champagne a Good Long-Term Investment?
- The Best Champagne Wines to Buy in 2021
- Dom Perignon Rose Gold 1996
- Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siècle Brut
- Louis Roederer Cristal 'Gold Medalion' Orfevres Limited Edition Brut Millesime 2002
- Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut 'Spectre' James Bond 007 Edition 1988
- Krug Clos d'Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Brut 1995
- Boerl & Kroff Brut Millesime 1995
- Dom Perignon P3 Plenitude Brut 1990
- Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut 1975
- Billecart-Salmon 'Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart' Millésime 1983
- Ruinart L'Exclusive Blanc de Blancs Brut
What is Champagne?
Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. It is made using the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes.
Champagne wine has to adhere to rigorous quality regulations and a controlled winemaking process that includes a second fermentation in the bottle (methode champenoise).
But, is there a difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?
The Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine can be called “Champagne” only if it’s made in the Champagne region of France.
In other words, all Champagnes are sparkling wines, but all sparklers cannot be labeled as Champagne!
They’re called sparkling wines in the US (mostly produced in California, Oregon, and Washington). In Italy, sparkling wines might be labeled as Spumante or Prosecco, in Spain - Cava, and in Austria and Germany - Sekt.
All of them are made according to standards specific to the wine region. Also, the grapes used are different.
Let's take a look at how it all started.
The Origins of Champagne
The effervescence in wine was observed back in 4000 BC, but people could not explain where the fizz came from.
Until the 5th century, French winemakers from the Champagne region made only still wines.
The most popular myth about Champagne sparkling wine is that it was invented by the Benedectine monk Dom Perignon who lived in Champagne, France, in the 1600s.
Dom Perignon stopped the wine’s fermentation by bottling it in very low temperatures. When the temperatures rose, a secondary fermentation occurred in the bottle giving rise to bubbles.
However, it was found later that Dom Perignon was not the first to discover the secret of making a fizzy wine. 30 years earlier, the English scientist Christopher Merrett had already described the process of adding sugar and molasses to make sparkling wine.
Anyhow, this winemaking method quickly became popular.
But the trapped carbon dioxide created very high pressure in the bottles and caused many bottles to burst, sometimes creating a chain reaction in the wine cellars. This led to many people referring to sparkling wine as “the devil’s wine.”
Once seen as a “flaw,” these bubbles eventually became popular even among the royalty of France and England.
And, Champagne has been systematically produced since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
The Champagne Region
The Champagne region located in Northern France between Epernay, Reims, and Aÿ has a cold climate (with an average temperature of around 10 °C.) This creates the perfect conditions to grow wine grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier - the primary grapes used in Champagne.
The region has five appellations (AOCs), 17 Grand Crus, and 42 Premier Cru villages.
The appellations are:
- Côte des Blancs
- Côte de Sézanne
- Côte des Bar
- Montagne de Reims
- Vallée de la Marne
Apart from these appellations, there are AOCs like Coteaux Champenois that specialize in the making of still wine.
So, what is the Champagne winemaking process?
How is Champagne Made?
To make the bubbles in Champagne, wine producers use the methode champenoise.
The winemaking process of these sparkling wines includes these stages:
- Pressing: The grapes are gently pressed, and the grape juice is extracted.
- Primary fermentation: The winemaker adds yeast to the cuvee, and the sugars ferment into alcohol.
- Blending: Once the first fermentation is complete, base wine from different vintages is blended (for non vintage Champagne.)
- Secondary fermentation: Then, the winemaker puts the blend in bottles with yeast and sugar. All bottles are stored horizontally for about eight weeks. The byproduct of this fermentation is carbon dioxide, which is trapped inside the sparkling wine bottle, and creates the effervescence.
- Lees: Once the secondary fermentation is over, the lees stay in the bottle for 1-3 years to enhance the Champagne’s flavor.
- Remuage: All bottles are stored at a 45-degree angle and gradually turned upside down, so the lees settle down in the bottle’s neck. This process takes about a week.
- Disgorgement: The neck of the bottle is frozen. The cap with all the lees is removed. The missing liquid is replaced with still wine and sugar, which determines the sweetness of the Champagne.
- Aging: Once the cork is replaced with a permanent one, the Champagne has to age for 12-36 months.
Now, you’ll find very confusing terms on a Champagne bottle that refer to its producers. Let’s look at how to read them.
How to Distinguish among Champagne Producers from the Labels
In total, there are about 19,000 grape growers, and around 100 Champagne wine houses.
Most Champagne growers sell their grapes to winemakers, and only a few wine producers make Champagne from their own grapes.
You can distinguish between the different Champagne producers by the label on the wine bottle:
- NM: Producers who buy grapes to make Champagne
- CM: Co-operatives that make wine from grapes of winegrowers who are part of the co-op
- RM: A grower who makes wine (grower Champagne) from his own grapes
- SR: A non-cooperative association of growers who make wine from a shared pool of grapes
- RC: A co-op member selling Champagne under the name of the co-operative
- MA: A winemaker who produces wine under a different brand name
- ND: A wine distributor selling under his own name
There are different styles of Champagne from which you can choose too. Let’s see what they are.
Champagne comes in various styles depending on the grape varieties the producers use and whether they make a vintage Champagne (from a single year or vintage) or non-vintage (from multiple vintages).
The most popular styles are:
- Brut Champagne: A non-vintage Champagne made with the classical Champagne grape blend Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier
- Prestige cuvée: A blended sparkler made with the finest grapes collected from the Champagne house’s best vineyards. Some of the classical champagnes like Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque are Prestige cuvées.
- Blanc de noirs: “White of blacks” Champagne is made entirely from the black grape varieties - Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
How are Blanc de noirs made?
To prevent getting the typical red color, Champagne producers limit the grape flesh’s contact with its skin (which contains all the red pigments.) This produces beautiful yellow-hued sparklers.
- Blanc de Blancs: “White of whites” Champagne is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes. You may find Champagne made with Pinot Blanc grapes as well.
- Rosé: Rosé Champagne has been around since the 18th century. Wine producers make pink Champagne by leaving the red grape skins with the wine juice for a short time. This gives it a soft, blush color. Or they blend a little bit of red wine into the sparkling wine Cuvee.
Also read: Discover How Many Calories are in Your Glass of Red Wine (and the Health Benefits.)
Now, you must’ve heard of brut and sweet Champagne. These terms refer to the sweetness levels of the bubbly.
Here are the terms that describe the sweetness of your Champagne based on the amount of sugar per liter:
- Brut Zero: Less than 3 grams
- Extra Brut: Less than 6 grams
- Brut: Less than 12 grams
- Extra Dry: Between 12-17 grams
- Sec: Between 17-32 grams
- Demi-sec: Between 32-50 grams
- Doux: 50 grams and up
Also read: Fancy a sweet white wine? Check our list of 10 excellent Moscato wines!
Champagne Taste and Food Pairings
Champagnes from different vintages, blends, and producers can taste very different.
The taste also depends on the ratio of the different grape varieties used in the blend.
For example, Pinot Noir adds a darker color and more decadent aromas. Pinot Meunier adds a distinctive acidity and bright aromas to the wine. Chardonnay lends elegant flavors of ripe stone fruits and a rich, creamy texture.
What are the best dishes to pair with Champagne?
You can pair Champagne with different foods from rich cheese platters to seafood dishes like baked salmon and oysters. You can also accompany a more traditional dinner of delicate crispy chicken with a glass of this lovely fizzy drink.
If you want to have Champagne with your dessert, go for the demi-sec or doux sparklers.
How to Serve Champagne
You should serve Champagne slightly chilled (at around 7-9 °C). You can cool down the bottle in a bucket with ice water for half an hour before popping the cork.
This will ensure the maximum amount of bubbles is retained in the Champagne bottle and you don’t serve flat Champagne!
Also read: Wondering how many glasses are in your bottle of Champagne? Check our useful guide on How Many Glasses Are in a Bottle of Wine.
But how do you open a Champagne bottle without having the cork hitting the ceiling, anyway?
How to Open a Champagne Bottle
To prevent spilling, you have to tilt the bottle at an angle and start rotating the cork while holding it. This way, you’ll also allow some air in the bottle, which will lower the pressure inside it.
Pouring Champagne in a Glass
Champagne is usually served in Champagne flute glasses. Their long tall shape allows the sparkling wine to preserve its effervescence for longer.
To pour the Champagne, you should tilt the wine glass and gently pour the liquid down its side to prevent mousse creation. The glass should be about ⅔ or ¾ full.
Read more: Find out How to Choose the Right Wine Glass for your wine!
Now that the origins, taste, serving, and food pairing of Champagne is sorted out, let’s look at the prices.
You’ll find that they’re always more expensive than sparkling wines. A good quality bottle would be priced anywhere above $50, and vintage bottles can go up to several thousands.
Why is Champagne so Expensive?
Champagne is the most expensive type of sparkling wine in the world. That’s mainly because of four reasons:
- The grapes are sometimes affected by frost and hail and some years have much smaller yields. The complexities in grape cultivation drive the grapes’ price up.
- According to AOC regulations, the grapes must be harvested by hand, which is more costly and time-consuming than using machines.
- The methode champenoise used during the second fermentation takes a lot of time and manual labor.
- The bottles usually age for years before being released for sale, and their value goes up with time.
Is Champagne a Good Long-Term Investment?
Champagne is an excellent wine for long-term investment.
The demand for Champagne is on the rise, but the production is scarce (especially vintage Champagne), making it highly valued by both wine enthusiasts and wine investors.
Despite being bubbly, the price appreciation track record of Champagne is remarkably stable. For example, during the 2008 great recession, while stock market, real estate, and even wine prices from other regions plunged, the average prices for Champagnes continued to climb up.
Besides, the value of Champagne also increases as it ages.
For example, a vintage Dom Perignon 2008 released at $1,460 in mid-2015 increased in value by 16% in just one day. In the same year, Louis Roederer Cristal 2005 appreciated by 30% in 12 months.
Additionally, Champagne is a favorite at auction houses!
- A special deluxe edition of Louis Roederer Cristal 1990 was sold for $18,000 at Christie’s New York in 2006.
- In 2009 a well-preserved Krug bottle from 1928 was sold for $21,200 at Acker Merrall & Condit in Hong Kong.
- In 2008, a 1959 Dom Pérignon Rosé bottle was sold for $42,700 by Acker Merrall & Condit in New York.
What are the best Champagne brands you can buy to enjoy or store for the years to come?
The Best Champagne Wines to Buy in 2021
1. Dom Perignon Rose Gold 1996
This elegant rosé Champagne is from the famous Dom Perignon house, which offers exclusively vintage Champagne.
This pink bubbly is a lovely mix of strawberry and cream flavor with crisp fruity and subtle nutty aromas.
Price of Dom Perignon Rose Gold 1996: $56,978
2. Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siècle Brut
This is a very popular dry Champagne with a creamy texture from the famous Moet & Chandon. You’ll notice gentle fruit aromas mixed with a biscuit aftertaste.
Price of Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siècle Brut: $6,843
3. Louis Roederer Cristal 'Gold Medalion' Orfevres Limited Edition Brut Millesime 2002
The Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne is the perfect festive drink for any special occasion. This delightful sparkler has fresh citrus aromas, subtle spicy notes, and a fresh, crisp finish.
Price of Louis Roederer Cristal 'Gold Medalion' Orfevres Limited Edition Brut Millesime 2002: $3,242
4. Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut 'Spectre' James Bond 007 Edition 1988
Bollinger is known as James Bond’s favorite drink. Every sip is a combination of elegance, mystery, and seduction. This French Champagne has a crisp, fruity aroma with soft hazelnut undertones.
Price of Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut 'Spectre' James Bond 007 Edition 1988: $3,015
5. Krug Clos d'Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Brut 1995
Krug Clos is a festive drink that combines elegant flavors of caramel and vanilla with light mineral undertones. Its richness comes from mixing over ten vintages into a perfect bubbly.
Price of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Brut 1995: $3,257
6. Boerl & Kroff Brut Millesime 1995
A royal drink that represents the classic Champagne blend. This bubbly combines flavors of ripe stone fruit, honey, and almond with zesty minerality.
Price of Boerl & Kroff Brut Millesime 1995: $3,590
7. Dom Perignon P3 Plenitude Brut 1990
Another excellent brut Champagne from Dom Perignon. This elegant sparkler offers a bouquet of chocolate, grapefruit, and caramel flavors with mineral undertones.
Price of Dom Perignon P3 Plenitude Brut 1990: $2,811
8. Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut 1975
Pol Roger is the ultimate celebratory drink, and it was a favorite of the former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This powerful yet elegant Champagne combines red berry flavor with apple and brioche aromas.
Price of Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut 1975: $2,091
9. Billecart-Salmon 'Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart' Millésime 1983
This Champagne house has produced Champagne for over 200 years. The Cuvee Champagne from 1983 has distinctive flavors of peach and pear combined with toasty undertones.
Price of Billecart-Salmon 'Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart' Millesime 1983: $1,274
10. Ruinart L'Exclusive Blanc de Blancs Brut
This mesmerizing Champagne is exclusively made with Chardonnay grapes and is a true joy for any wine enthusiast! It combines red fruit aromas with toast, almond flavors, and a slightly earthy undertone.
Price of Ruinart L'Exclusive Blanc de Blancs Brut: $895
By now, you might be wondering where you can get your hands on a rare vintage Dom Perignon or a royal Pol Roger that’s been aging for decades.
After all, such Champagnes are not sold in every wine shop, and if you shop online, you might even end up with a counterfeit bottle!
Luckily, you can use a wine investment platform like Vinovest to easily buy some of the best Champagnes like Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label or Pommery.
Buy Champagne and Other Fine Wines Through Vinovest
Vinovest is an online wine investment company which helps you buy, sell, and store your wines safely.
How it Works
It’s easy. You just have to:
- Sign up to Vinovest.
- Fill out a questionnaire on your investment preferences and risk appetite.
- Add at least $1,000 to your account.
- Start investing and watch your wine portfolio grow.
Here are the benefits that come with Vinovest:
Easy buying and selling
Vinovest sources its wines directly from wineries, wholesalers, and wine exchanges. This way, you get access to the best possible prices on sweet white wines like Ice Wine, Lambrusco, sweet red wines, and other prestigious bottles.
Your wine portfolio is curated by expert Sommeliers and data scientists who use historical data and advanced financial models.
Access to a global network
Vinovest gives you access to wines from private wineries and rare wines you can’t get anywhere else.
Vinovest stores your wines in bonded warehouses that have the optimal temperature, humidity, light, and vibration levels at all times.
Vinovest provides you with a comprehensive insurance policy that keeps your wine safe at all times.
Get your bottle of Piper-Heidsieck or Laurent-Perrier delivered to you or your buyer no matter where you are in the world.
And the best part is that you own all wines that you buy!
Ready to Buy an Elegant Bottle of Champagne?
Champagne is the ultimate symbol of luxury and celebration! It always brightens up the mood and adds a sparkle to every special occasion, whether it’s a grand party or just a home gathering.
Besides, some of these bubbly bottles make excellent long-term investments too.
And the smartest way to buy the best Champagne and other fine wines is through a wine investing platform like Vinovest.
So, sign up now and check out the amazing range of wines awaiting you!