The Champagne wine region is home to the world’s best-known sparkling wine. You’ve probably heard that much, but there is much more to the story. To truly appreciate champagne wine, it is helpful to know a few facts.
After reading this guide, you’ll know how to navigate your way around the champagne wine region and then you can explore other French wine regions.
1) Champagne Wine Region: Climate and Geography
Situated in northern France, the Champagne wine region is a relatively cool climate with an average temperature of 11 degrees (50 Fahrenheit). Most experts consider the champagne region to be at the edge of wine production in terms of climate. Further, the region enjoys two influences – a moderating influence from the north Atlantic and continental tendencies.
Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy, two of the most famous French wine regions, Champagne also has relatively limited sunshine. With just over 1600 hours of sunshine per year, the region has enough light to produce fresh and crisp grapes.
As you can see in the champagne map below, the major cities in the region are Reims and Épernay. From a wine travel perspective, Épernay is an excellent place to stay because it is considered “the capital of Champagne.” In the historic city centre, wine makers like Mercier Champagne have buildings you can visit.
If you’re looking to venture into the countryside and you don’t know French, it would be wise to look into joining private champagne tours. I have taken wine tours elsewhere in France, and they are an excellent way to explore. Make sure to visit the largest champagne producers and smaller producers – each will have its style of Champagne.
2) Champagne Production: What Goes Into The Glass?
A few grape varieties play a central role in your glass of Champagne. The main types are Chardonnay (a white grape), Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Beyond those well-known grape varieties, you may encounter a few white grape varieties such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, and Arbane.
The champagne wine style is also known for its bubbles. Those carbon dioxide bubbles are a natural by-product of the fermentation process. In non-sparkling wine (also known as still wine), the gas is allowed to escape. In contrast, sparkling wine producers keep the gas inside the bottle.
3) A French Monk Transformed Champagne Wine Forever
While wine has been around for thousands of years, sparkling wine is relatively innovative. For a time, sparkling wine was considered a flaw because it could be dangerous.
Champagne wine became more popular and safer thanks to a certain monk you’ve probably heard of before. Mental Floss points out that Dom Pérignon (1638-1715), a French Benedictine monk, lived nearby Epernay. In his role as a cellar master, he developed methods to standardize production and thicker glass bottles. These innovations helped to make today’s sparkling wine safe and enjoyable.
Today, Dom Pérignon is better known as a prestigious wine brand produced by Moët & Chandon, which started to sell wine in the 1930s.
4) Champagne Wine Has Been Famous For Centuries
“In victory, you deserve it; in defeat you need it.” – Napoleon Bonaparte on Champagne
Champagne Has Early Mover Advantage
There are several reasons why champagne wine has become well known. The region has an early advantage in perfecting sparkling wine. When your wine is first on the scene, it is easier to become better known.
Prestigious People Have Loved Champagne For Centuries
It also had the advantage of prestigious fans like King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Winston Churchill was also a passionate fan of Champagne – he is thought to have consumed thousands of bottles throughout his life. Churchill’s passion for Champagne is so well known that a recent book on his personal finances was called: “No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money” by David Lough
Champagne Wine Producers Have Protected Their Brand For Over A Century
More than any other wine region, champagne wine producers are passionate about protecting their reputation. The region has successfully advocated in France and at the European Union to protect the word “champagne.” Champagne wine was recognized in the Madrid Treaty of 1891. I have also seen some people state that the Treaty of Versailles reinforced Champagne’s status, but I have not been able to verify this statement.
If a wine producer elsewhere in France or the European Union tries to describe their product as champagne wine, they will face the wrath of champagne wine producers.
Champagne wine has become synonymous with celebration
In North America, champagne wine and other kinds of sparkling wine are most popular on New York’s Eve. Champagne is also well known for celebration in sports. The tradition of shaking a champagne wine bottle and spraying the wine around dates back to a playful event in 1967.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about this “spray champagne as a celebration” custom. On the one hand, it feels wasteful and creates a mess. On the other hand, celebrations add further meaning and depth to life! I prefer the old-fashioned way of enjoying Champagne – drinking it!
5) Champagne Is The King Of New Year’s Eve
According to a survey of 1002 Americans in 2019, Champagne is the most popular beverage to drink on New Year’s Eve (29%). Surprisingly, red wine came in at 13%, and white wine was favored by 7% of respondents.
While it is traditional in North America to enjoy Champagne on New Year’s Eve, it pays to think more broadly. Recently, I started a personal tradition of enjoying rose wine in the hot summer months, including one or two sparkling, rose wines.
6) Economists Have Studied Champagne
If you’ve read books like Freakonomics, you’re going to love this story. According to research performed by the University of Chicago, researchers summarized on fivethirtyeight.com, “The average price of a bottle is 18 percent lower during the holidays compared to the average week.”
Why would the price drop right as more people decide to buy? The answer is price elasticity. As the researchers put it: “seasonal sparkling wine buyers — those who limit their quaffing to the holidays — are more sensitive to price. Holiday sparkling wine buyers care a fair bit about price, perhaps because they have already spent a lot of money on Christmas gifts.
If this champagne wine pricing trend holds, buying up sparkling wine in December might be a great time to score a good deal on your wine.