Champagne is globally renowned as the ultimate celebratory drink. Popping a cork has become so synonymous with anniversary, birthday, new year and wedding celebrations that its particularly unique vinous qualities are often overlooked.
The special cultural and physical significance of the Champagne region – home to a distinctive terroir and artisan production methods – was officially acknowledged with the award of UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015. As appreciation for its elegance, precision and drinkability continues to increase, interest in the nuances between champagne styles, vintages and winemaking techniques is higher than ever before.
To fully understand champagne, it is first necessary to acquaint oneself with the unique vocabulary that it employs. Below, we shed light on the complexities of our favourite effervescent tipple, by defining some of the key terms involved in champagne and its production.
First, what exactly is ‘champagne’?
Champagne: Sparkling wine is produced worldwide, but the term champagne only applies to sparkling wine made in the Champagne region in the northeast of France, and in accordance with Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) regulations. Official directives demand, among other things, secondary bottle fermentation, specific vineyard practices and minimum storage periods.
Although the Champagne region contains 634 villages, just 318 of these make up the viticultural appellation and have the right to produce champagne. The appellation is divided into five main production areas: the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne, the Côte des Blancs, the Côte de Sézanne, and the Côte des Bar.
Coteaux Champenois: A still wine appellation which covers the same geographical area as Champagne and uses the same grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for red wine and Chardonnay for white wine. A few of the larger champagne producers also make a Coteaux Champenois, including Bollinger and Louis Roederer, however production is very small.
There are different types of champagne producer, distinguished by their size, independence and whether they buy or grow their own grapes.
Champagne Houses: Despite there being just 320 Champagne Houses, they account for more than two-thirds of all champagne shipments and represent 90% of the export market. The Houses typically buy grapes from growers with whom they have long-standing relationships and market their champagne under their own label.
Grandes Marques: The most famous Champagne Houses are members of the organisation Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) and are sometimes referred to as Grandes Marques (‘big brands’) – a term historically used for the 24 members of the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne, which no longer exists.
Growers: Champagne produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards where the grapes are grown is called Grower Champagne. The producers that makes these champagnes are typically referred to as ‘Growers’. There are some 16,000 growers in Champagne, who collectively own approximately 90% of the vineyards. Most produce a small amount of their own champagnes and sell the rest of their grapes to the big houses.
Cooperatives: A Champagne Cooperative consists of a group of individual winegrowers. The Cooperative vinifies the grapes of its members’ vineyards and the resulting champagne is typically sold under a cooperative label. A famous example is Palmer & Co.
CIVC labelling requirements stipulate that initials denoting the type of champagne producer must be used on every bottle. These can be found in small print on the label.
Négociant-Manipulant (NM): A champagne producer that buys grapes, must or still wine to make champagne on their own premises and bottle and market it under their own label. Négoicant-manipulants, or simply négociants, may also have their own vineyards, but their champagne is not produced exclusively from these vineyards. All of the major champagne houses belong in this category.
Récoltant-Manipulant (RM): A grower producer who makes and markets champagne under their own label, produced from grapes exclusively sourced from their own vineyards and processed on their own premises. Most growers belong in this category.
Coopérative de Manipulation (CM): A cooperative producer that produces, bottles and markets champagne made from its member’s grapes, which is then sold under a cooperative label. Most cooperatives belong in this category.
Récoltant-Coopérateur (RC): Similar to a CM, however the resulting champagne is distributed back to members of the cooperative, who market the co-op produced champagne under their own label.
Société de Récoltants (SR): A family firm of growers that produces champagne using grapes sourced from family vineyards and markets the champagne under its own label.
Négociant Distributeur (ND): A distributor who buys finished bottles of champagne and labels them on their own premises.
Marque d’Acheteur (MA): An ‘own brand’ champagne produced exclusively for one client, such as supermarket own brand champagne.
People in Champagne
CIVC: The Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne is the inter-professional body of houses and growers that regulates the champagne industry.
Chef de Cave: The cellarmaster who manages the winemaking team at a large négociant house. Smaller houses or growers will typically have just one winemaker, in which case Chef de Cave is not used.
Vigneron: A vineyard worker. Growers are often referred to as vignerons.
Remuer: A cellar worker who manually ‘riddles’ bottles (turns them form horizontal to vertical) after secondary fermentation. See remuage.
Champenois: The winemakers, merchants and all wider inhabitants of Champagne are collectively referred to as the Champenois.
Terroir: The concept of terroir refers to the unique identity of a particular site, accounting for all possible factors that could effect vine growth – such as soil, subsoil, climate, relief and topography. Terroir can be thought of macroscopically – such as the general terroir of Champagne, and microscopically – such as the terroir of a specific parcel within a vineyard.
Vignoble: A specific vineyard area, typically used when referring to the vignoble of a particular producer. For example, the vignoble of Champagne is the entire 34,000 hectare vineyard area.
Vieilles Vignes: Old vines. These are very rare and typically produce a smaller yield of concentrated, high-quality grapes.
Lieu-Dit: A named parcel of vines, such as Les Chétillons in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Les Crayères in Ambonnay. There are an estimated 84,000 different lieux-dits in Champagne.
Clos: A prestigious single-vineyard plot surrounded by walls (although the walls may no longer be there). Famous clos in Champagne include Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses and Krug’s Clos du Mesnil.
Vendange: Grape harvest or picking.
Organic Vineyard: A vineyard that cultivates organically-certified grapes, which means they are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers. Bugs, weeds, and pests are managed using all-natural substances (or are mechanically removed) and the fertilisers used to nourish the vines are also 100% natural.
Biodynamic Vineyard: A biodynamic vineyard also does not use synthetic chemicals, but goes further than organic farming by incorporating ideas about a vineyard as an entire ecosystem. The important concept behind biodynamics is the belief that the crops, soil, farmer and universe are all interconnected – thus, the connection between farmer, vine and the earth itself is finely balanced in accordance with such things as astrological influences and lunar cycles.
Lutte Raisonnée: Literally translating to a ‘reasoned struggle’, lutte raisonnée is a middle ground between conventional, chemically-dependent viticulture and modern, organic farming. Given Champagne’s wet and cold climate, the threat of vineyard infection is a constant danger – rendering strict organic farming too great a risk for many growers. The aim is to eliminate synthetic pesticides and herbicides and use them only in times of dire need.
Botrytis: Although desirable in other appellations, grape rot – or botrytis cinerea (sometimes called ‘noble rot’) – is considered detrimental in champagne, affecting the character and finesse of the wine. Botrytis emerges and spreads in wet and warm conditions and is avoided wherever possible.
In some of the worst cases in 2017, the impact of botrytis on the grapes was visual. However, the most common detection methods are unsurprisingly smell and taste and there are two undesirable qualities in particular that winemakers in Champagne look out for.
Arôme de Champignon Frais (ACF): An undesirable smell (literally ‘fresh mushroom aromas’) that is sometimes detectable on the nose of still wines affected by botrytis.
Les Goûts Moisis Terreux (GMT): An undesirable taste (literally ‘earthy, mouldy, flavours’) that is sometimes detectable on the palate of still wines affected by botrytis as a musty, mildewy taste.
Downy Mildew: A water mould that infects grapevines when there is heavy rainfall, such as during spring and early summer, or when moisture is trapped on overgrown vines. Downy mildew appears on the grapevine leaf as yellow patches that turn reddish-brown as the mould spreads. Good vineyard practices, such as canopy management and proper irrigation, reduce the risk of infection.
Powdery Mildew: A fungus that lives on the bark of vines and appears as a light dusting of white powder on the leaves. Once a plant has become infected, it can be almost impossible to remove. However, keeping plants spaced properly in the vineyard – so that they get adequate sun and can dry out after rain (powdery mildew grows in moisture and shade) – helps keep the vines healthy.
Phylloxera: A microscopic vine louse that attacks the roots of the vine, preventing it from taking in nutrients and water. Phylloxera vastatrix (‘dry-leaf devastator’) arrived in Champagne in 1890, destroying nearly all of its vineyards. The only effective solution was to graft the vines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, a practice which continues today. For some unknown reason, a tiny number of plots in Champagne escaped without infection, such as the three plots used to make Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises 2006. As these plots contain extremely rare ungrafted vines, this special champagne offers a unique taste of pre-phylloxera champagne.
Millerandage: A condition in which cool weather during flowering causes berries to set improperly in grape bunches. The affected bunches develop berries of different sizes that mature at different rates – typically viewed as a problem since it reduces yields.
The vineyards of Champagne were classified in the mid-20th century in order to standardise the price of grapes grown throughout all the different villages. Each village was given a quality-rated status, determined by the standard of the grapes and specific vineyards aspects, such as soil topography.
In Champagne – unlike other appellations – the classification is by village, and not by vineyard. Therefore, a Grand Cru champagne must be sourced entirely from vineyards within Grand Cru villages. Further, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the only grapes eligible for Grand Cru status – other grapes can be planted in Grand Cru villages, but are not given the designation.
Although the historical classification is still highly relevant in the region, producers are beginning look elsewhere in search for that all-important quality of fruit. Autre Crus such as Bar-sur-Seine, Damery, Les Riceys and Verneuil (all rated between 80-89%) frequently feature in the top cuvées.
Grand Cru: The top villages that produce the very best grapes and have a 100% rating are called Grand Cru (‘great growth’) villages. There are 17 in the entire region, accounting for just 8.5%, or 3,000 hectares, of Champagne.
Premier Cru: The next best are the Premier Cru (‘first growth’) villages, which have ratings between 90% and 99%. There are 44 Premier Cru villages, accounting for 22%, or 7,500 acres, of Champagne.
Autre Cru: Villages with below 90% ratings are called Autre Cru (‘other growth’).
There are three main grape varieties in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Winemakers determine their individual house styles by combining these three grape varieties in differing amounts.
Chardonnay: The white grape most typifies the champagne style, bringing freshness, elegance and delicacy. Lighter, fresher and more elegant champagne styles typically have more Chardonnay, such as Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV.
Pinot Noir: The wider used red grape brings body, structure and complexity to the champagne. Heavier, more complex champagne styles typically have a larger percentage of Pinot Noir, such as Bollinger Special Cuvée NV.
Pinot Meunier: The lesser used red grape adds fruitiness and floral aromas. As Pinot Meunier doesn’t allow for as much ageing, it is typically not used as the majority grape variety, although exceptions do include the world’s most popular champagne – Moët & Chandon Impérial NV.
Four other grape varieties – Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris – are also permitted in the region. Although they are rarely used today, Bollinger have been planting the other grape varieties since 2004 – we tasted the results of some of their experiments in 2018.
Champagne Quality Tiers
Non-Vintage (NV): The most traditional champagne is non-vintage (also known as sans année) which accounts for around 90% of all champagne production. Non-vintage champagne is blended every year from a variety of wines (sometimes over 100) and multiple different vintages, with the current vintage constituting the majority of the blend. Non-vintage champagne must be aged for a minimum of 15 months in the bottle before shipping.
Multi-Vintage (MV): Like non-vintages, multi-vintage champagnes are blended from a variety of wines and vintages. However, multi-vintages are not necessarily annual recreations and do not always have a majority ‘base vintage’. Rather, they are typically blended from a selection of old reserve wines. Examples include Lanson Extra Age Brut NV and Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old NV.
Vintage: Vintage (or millésimé) champagne, is created from grapes of a single year. Not all years are declared vintages and not all houses produce the same vintages. Vintage champagne must undergo three years of bottle ageing prior to shipping. Note – millésime refers to a vintage year, while millésimé refers to a vintage champagne.
Prestige Cuvée: Also called tête de cuvée, the prestige cuvée is the very best champagne that a house produces. It is a blend of wine from the highest quality vineyards and is normally, though not always, a vintage champagne. Famous examples include Louis Roederer’s Cristal and Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon.
While most champagnes are made from a blend of all three grape varieties, there are some exceptions. Common champagne styles include Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.
Blanc de Blancs: Blended solely from Chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Blancs (meaning white wine from white grapes) are celebrated for their pure freshness and elegance. Notable examples include Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NVand Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007.
Blanc de Noirs: Blended solely from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or a mixture of both. Although the colour is somewhat controlled by quickly removing the skins from the juice after the grapes have been pressed, Blanc de Noirs (meaning white wine from red grapes) are still seldom completely clear or white. Good bottles of Blanc de Noirs can be hard to find – examples include Palmer & Co Blanc de Noirs NV and Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 2000.
Single-Vineyard Champagne: A champagne made entirely from a single parcel of vines, rather than being blended from many different vineyards, such as Clos Lanson 2006 and Krug Clos du Mesnil 2002. Also called monoparcelle.
Monocru: A champagne made entirely from grapes of a single village.
Rosé: A pink style of champagne that has significantly increased in popularity over the last decade. There are two methods of rosé champagne production.
Rosé d’Assemblage: The most common method of rosé champagne production involves blending red wine (typically 15-18%) to normally vinified white wine after first fermentation. The aim is to protect the freshness and tension of the white wine, by blending red wine that is aromatic and fruit driven. Champagne is the only appellation in France that is legally allowed to blend red and white wine together. Dom Pérignon Rosé 2004 is a good example.
Rosé de Saignée: Rosé champagne can also be produced using the saignée (‘bleeding’) method, which involves macerating the juice on the grape skins for 12-72 hours, allowing the must to develop stronger aromas and flavour profiles while deepening the colour of the wine. The saignée method tends to produce rosés that are darker and more aromatic in their youth than blended rosés. This method is famously used to make the world’s best-selling rosé champagne – Laurent-Perrier Rosé NV.
Oxidative Winemaking: When winemakers deliberately expose champagne to oxygen at various stages in the winemaking process, their winemaking style is said to be oxidative. Oxidative winemaking aims to encourage certain reactions and achieve a particular style of champagne that is often complex, displaying flavours such as dried fruit nuttiness and umami. Champagne producers that are oxidative in style include Bollinger and Krug.
Reductive Winemaking: When winemakers aim to reduce the exposure of champagne to oxygen in the winery, their winemaking style is said to be reductive. Reductive winemaking involves minimising or eliminating practices such as bâtonnage and oak fermentation. Champagne producers that are oxidative in style include Moët & Chandon and Ruinart.
Not all winemakers subscribe to an obviously oxidative or reductive style of winemaking. Many of the best producers utilise a combination of both oxidative and reductive winemaking techniques, such as Louis Roederer.
Once harvest is complete and the grapes have been picked – a process which typically takes around 2-3 weeks, beginning in early September – champagne production begins There are 8 distinct stages in champagne production. The following definitions are provided in chronological order of occurrence.
Pressing: The process by which juice is extracted from the grapes. Utilising a technique of gentle but gradually increasing pressure, pressing machines separate the juice into fractions. Modern pressing machines range in capacity from 2,000 to 12,000 kilograms of grapes.
Coeur de Cuvée: The first 2,050 litres from a 4,000-kilogram press. The coeur de cuvée is the highest-quality portion of juice, rich in sugar and acid. Top prestige cuvées will often be made solely from the coeur de cuvée.
Taille de Cuvée: The second pressing of the grapes consists of the next 500 litres of juice and is generally considered inferior to the coeur de cuvée. Producers will use a small quantity of the taille de cuvée however, for its fruitiness and lower acid content.
Rebêche: The final pressing of the grapes. The rebêche cannot legally be used in champagne production and is generally sent to be distilled.
Débourbage: Settling of the freshly pressed juice prior to fermentation. Débourbage (‘de-sludging’) allows solids such as skins and pips to settle to the bottom of the juice for removal.
Chaptalisation: The addition of sugar to the grape must in order to increase the potential alcohol level.
2. First Fermentation
First Fermentation: During primary fermentation, or alcoholic fermentation, the yeasts consume the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other by-products that contribute to the sensory characteristics of champagne. Primary fermentation produces a light, white still wine and usually takes place in stainless steel tanks, though some producers still ferment their wines in wooden barrels (a minority of others use clay and concrete eggs).
Stainless Steel Fermentation: Fermenting in stainless steel tanks became common practice in the 1960s, as they are easy to keep clean, limit wine losses, permit temperature control management and reduce oxygen exposure, giving winemakers more control over fermentation. This generally allows for more neutral and pure wines to be created, with greater fruit expression and less richness than oak fermented wines.
Oak Fermentation: Some producers, such as Bollinger and Krug, still use oak barrel fermentation. This allows for an exchange of oxygen with the exterior of the oak, granting the wine further ageing potential, vinosity and roundness. However, the barrel must be topped up now and again as some wine is lost through evaporation and absorption due to the porosity of wood.
Barrique: The most common size of oak barrel, typically 205 litres in size, although many producers use 228 litre barriques from Burgundy. Larger barrels are generally called demi-muids (500-600 litres) while very large casks are called foudres (anywhere from several hundred to several thousand litres).
Malolactic Fermentation: After primary fermentation, the winemaker may decide to allow malolactic fermentation (MLF) to take place. Often called malolactic, or simply malo, malolactic fermentation is not strictly a fermentation, but rather a conversion of sharp, malic acidity to softer, lactic acidity. Although widely practised in Champagne – as it balances the region’s high acidity levels – some producers choose to block MLF in order to retain the firm, lively structure of the malic acidity.
Bâtonnage: Stirring of the lees that settle at the bottom of the barrel during vinification to bring them back into suspension, giving greater richness to the wine. Traditionally carried out using a baton, bâtonnage is controversial in champagne – some believe it develops greater depth, others believe it detracts from the delicate balance of champagne.
Assemblage: The essential stage in champagne vinification, assemblage (or blending) takes place each winter/spring time. The winemakers must taste and assess many different still wines from all the different vineyards and regions. For non-vintage champagnes, stocks of reserve wines are blended with wines from the current vintage. Any vintage champagnes produced in a given year will be a blend of still wines from that vintage only. Assemblage not only refers to the act of blending but also to the final blend itself.
Cuvée: A blend resulting from mixing base wines.
Vin Clair: A still wine, base wine, or vin clair, is the wine that results from first fermentation and is used as a component in the blending of champagne. Typically, many different base wines (sometimes hundreds) contribute to each blend. Each year, The Finest Bubble travel to Champagne to taste the vins clairs at many different houses and report on the expected quality of that vintage.
Reserve Wine: Wines from older vintages that are blended with the wines from the current vintage to make non-vintage, or multi-vintage, champagne. These wines will give the champagne a richness and a fullness of character, making it easier to drink at a younger age. Smaller growers will only stock wines from the last few vintages, whilst some of the larger houses will have stocks of reserve wines dating back for decades. Bollinger, Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot are among those well-known for maintaining vast collections of reserve wines.
Solera: A solera, or perpetual blend, is a system of storing reserve wines by blending them together into a single cuvée that is replenished every year with wine from the recent harvest. The result is a complex, multi-vintage blend that will often contain wine that is decades old.
Base Vintage: The majority vintage in a non-vintage blend. Although non-vintage champagne is a blend of multiple vintages, 60-90% comes from a single vintage (base vintage, or base year), with the remaining 10-40% made up of reserve wines from a number of older vintages. While producers manage to recreate a very consistent style and quality with their non-vintage year on year, the final blend inevitably displays subtle characteristics of the base year. As such, houses are beginning to recognise each blend as individual creations. For example, Krug Grande Cuvée NV is now released as a numbered edition every year, giving each blend a unique identity.
Fining: A process in which a fining agent, such as bentonite or egg white, is added to the wine. The fining agent bonds with suspended particles to produce larger molecules that will precipitate out of the wine, thus removing solid matter.
Filtration: A process carried out before bottling that involves passing the still wine through a filter to remove any suspended particles in the blend. Many producers choose not to filter as it can remove character from the wine.
Cold Stabilisation: The process of chilling a base wine before bottling to induce the precipitation of tartaric crystals, thus preventing crystal formation later in the bottle. Although widely practised in champagne, some producers view cold stabilisation as an unnecessary intervention, as any tartare crystals that might eventually appear are perfectly harmless.
4. Second Fermentation
Secondary Fermentation: Also known as prise de mousse (‘foam creation’), secondary fermentation transforms still wine into sparkling wine. The effervescence is kick-started with the addition of a sugary mixture called liqueur de tirage, which produces carbonic gas as it breaks down, giving champagne its bubbles. Secondary fermentation takes around 6-8 weeks and, in accordance with CIVC stipulations, all champagnes must be sold in the bottle in which they underwent their second fermentation.
Tirage: The act of bottling. Non-vintage champagnes are often referred to by their year of bottling rather than the year of harvest. For example, ‘triage 2009’ would mean that the champagne was bottled in 2009 and the base vintage is likely 2008.
Liqueur de Tirage: A mixture of wine, sugar, yeast, yeast nutrients (and possibly clarifying agents) added at bottling to induce secondary fermentation. In general, four grams of sugar per litre of wine will produce one atmosphere of pressure. The standard liqueur de tirage measurement in champagne is 24 grams of sugar, which produces roughly six atmospheres of pressure.
Sur Latte: The horizontal storage of bottles in the cellars. Bottles are stored sur latte (between thin layers of wood) during secondary fermentation.
5. Lees Ageing
Lees Ageing: Lees are the deposits of dead yeast cells leftover after secondary fermentation. During lees ageing, also known as sur lie (‘on the lees’), the sugars are consumed and the lees decompose, nourishing the champagne and imparting a unique character to the wine. Lees ageing is a fundamental process in creating the unique champagne character. By law, non-vintage champagnes must undergo 15 months of lees ageing and vintage champagnes must undergo three years. In reality however, most non-vintages will spend 2-3 years on the lees and vintage champagnes will spend 4-10 years.
Autolysis: The enzymatic breakdown of yeast cells during lees ageing that imparts particular types of flavour complexity, aromas and textural finesse to the champagne.
Sur Lie: The maturation of champagne on its lees.
Poignetage: The process of shaking bottles during lees ageing, to prevent the lees from sticking to the sides of the glass and keep them in suspension, and thus in contact with a greater surface area of champagne. Poignetage can also be carried out after disgorgement, to more evenly distribute the liqueur d’expédition.
Crayères: Large chalk mines dating back to the Roman era, which are now used for ageing champagne. They maintain a constant 10° celsius temperature and some reach more than 30m underground.
Remuage: Also called riddling, remuage involves rotating bottles to loosen the sediment created during second fermentation. The bottles are gradually rotated from horizontal to vertical to drive the yeast sediment into the bottle neck before disgorgment. Historically, remuage was carried out manually by a remuer, who can handle roughly 40,000 bottles a day. Nowadays, the process is more likely to be completed in a much shorter time by a mechanised gyropallette.
Pupitre: A wooden rack with 60 holes bored at an angle of 45° on which bottles can be manually ‘riddled’ – turned from horizontal to vertical.
Gyropalette: A mechanical device used in place of riddling. A gyropallette can hold over 500 bottles and complete the process much quicker than manual riddling, with no resulting loss in quality.
Sur Pointe: The storing of bottles upside down after riddling. Bottles can also be stored sur pointe long-term, to concentrate the sediment in the neck, thus reducing the continuing effect of the lees on the wine. Many producers believe bottles left undisgorged and stored sur pointe will stay fresher for a longer period of time.
Disgorgement: The process of removing the yeast deposit that has collected in the bottle neck as a result of remuage. Disgorgement, or dégorgement, can trigger a short, sharp intake of oxygen (although many producers now disgorge in protected environments), which can have a significant impact on aroma development. For this reason, many producers now conduct jetting, which removes any oxygen before the bottle is sealed.
Dégorgement à la Glace: A process which involves freezing the sediment by submerging the bottle neck in a refrigerating solution at -27°C. The sediment is then mechanically ejected under pressure, in the form of a frozen plug.
Dégorgement à la Volée: Disgorgment by hand, in which the bottle is held upside down, opened and then quickly tilted back upwards so that only enough wine is forced out to take the sediment with it. Manual disgorgement requires considerable skill and is typically only carried out on larger bottle sizes and very old vintages.
Jetting: A process in which a micro-jet of water (usually mixed with sulphites) is squirted into a bottle at high speed, immediately after disgorgement. This creates a foaming effect, which prevents oxygen from getting into the bottle and continues until the bottle is sealed. The use of jetting is becoming more popular in champagne, as it helps towards guaranteeing bottle consistency.
Post-Disgorgement Ageing: Most producers will keep their champagnes in the cellar for at least six months after disgorgement, to recover from the physical shock of the process. However, champagne will almost always benefit from additional post-disgorgement ageing. The very best vintages will continue to evolve and develop new levels of complexity for decades.
Recently Disgorged: Also called late-disgorgement, recently disgorged champagnes have been kept on their lees for longer than the original disgorgement release. As the yeast consumes oxygen during lees ageing, champagnes kept on their lees will remain fresh and protected from oxygen (for 50+ years). Once disgorged, the slow process of ageing begins. Therefore, the disgorgement date gives an indication of the maturity of the champagne. Recently disgorged champagnes will taste much fresher and more youthful than original disgorgements, which will be further along their path to maturity. Good examples of late-disgorged champagnes include Bollinger R.D. 2002, Dom Pérignon P2 1998 and Krug Collection 1990.
Maturation Cycle: Champagne has two distinct maturation periods: one of slow development, relying on the presence of yeast during lees ageing (pre-disgorgement), and another of more rapid development, when the yeast is no longer protecting the champagne from oxygen (post-disgorgement). The maturation cycle is captured by Dom Pérignon’s concept of Plénitude, in which champagne develops and matures through three defined stages in its life, and is late-disgorged as it enters each phase of evolution.
Dosage: A process that involves adding a small quantity of a sugary mixture – called liqueur d’expédition – to the champagne after disgorgement. Dosage is a crucial component of chamapagne production, as it balances the acidity and give the champagne sweetness and body, making it more pleasurable to drink. The level of dosage determines the category of the champagne (Extra Brut, Brut, Demi-Sec etc.)
Liquer d’Expédition: A blend of wine and dissolved sugar that is added to the champagne as dosage. The wine can be from a young or old vintage depending on the winemaker’s preference. The sugar is normally either cane or beet sugar.
Non-Dosé: A fully dry champagne made without any dosage, also called Brut Zéro or Brut Nature. Louis Roederer Brut Nature 2009 is a good example.
Extra Brut: A very dry champagne that contains a maximum of 6 g/l of dosage.
Brut: A dry champagne that contains a maximum of 12 g/l of dosage. This is the most common style of champagne.
Extra-Dry: Also called extra-sec, an off-dry champagne that contains 12-17 g/l of dosage.
Sec: A medium-dry champagne that contains 17-32 g/l of dosage.
Demi-Sec: A medium-sweet champagne that contains 32-50 g/l of dosage.
Doux: A sweet champagne that contains more than 50 g/l of dosage.
Crown Cap: A metal capsule, commonly found on beer bottles, which is typically used to seal a bottle during second fermentation and lees ageing. It is illegal to sell champagne bottles with a crown cap.
Bague Couronne: The thin, rounded lip seen on the tops of most champagne bottles, which secures the crown capsule in place for the second fermentation.
Agrafe: A large metal clip that was used to secure the cork during second fermentation and lees ageing before capsules were invented. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.
Bague Carré: A square lip on the mouth of a bottle used to secure the agrafé, indicating that the champagne was bottled with cork for its second fermentation.
Cork: The most common bottle closure, mandatory in champagne for finished wines. Champagne corks are composed of separate sections: the main body, or manche, is made of agglomerated cork, while the miroir consists of discs of natural cork, affixed to the bottom portion that comes into contact with the champagne. Highly compressed when inserted into the bottle, champagne corks provide a tight seal, allowing them to retain the carbon dioxide inside.
Mytik Diam: Launched in 2005, the Mytik Diam cork consists of cork bark pulverised into particles that is then treated to a supercritical carbon dioxide extraction process to remove volatile compounds that can harm sparkling wine, such as TCA. The particles are then agglomerated together with a special glue. Critically, Mytik Diam corks guarantee against TCA, or cork taint, and have been adopted by both the larger houses and smaller growers of champagne. However, as the long-term effects of this cork on the champagne ageing process have yet to be established, not everyone has embraced the Mytik Diam cork.
Muselet: The wire cage which holds the champagne cork in place.
Plaque de Muselet: The metal disc affixed to the top of the cork, usually featuring a design unique to the producer or the particular cuvée.
Ullage: The space between the bottom of the cork and the champagne liquid.
While the 75cl bottle is the standard size, champagne comes in a variety of bottle formats – most of which are inexplicably named after biblical kings. It is generally accepted that larger format bottles such as magnums and jeroboams slow down the ageing process of champagne, due to a much larger volume of liquid being exposed to the same ullage (the space between the cork and the champagne’s surface), thus reducing the wine’s exposure to oxygen and decelerating the evolution process. The process of autolysis also takes much longer in larger bottles, resulting in magnums displaying much more roundness and complexity as the champagne ages.
Transversage: The act of decanting champagne from one bottle to another. Transversage is typically used in the production of very small bottles (smaller than half bottle) and very large bottles (greater than jeroboam), as second fermentation is less stable in irregular bottle sizes.
Half Bottle: A 37.5cl bottle, equivalent to half a standard bottle of champagne.
Bottle: A 75cl bottle, the standard size bottle of champagne.
Magnum: A 1.5L bottle, equivalent to 2 standard bottles of champagne. Although the 75cl bottle is standard, the 1.5L magnum is generally accepted to be the optimum bottle size for champagne. Not only do magnums age much better than bottles, they are less sensitive to temperature fluctuations, aesthetically impressive and great for gifting.
Jeroboam: A 3L bottle, equivalent to 4 standard bottles of champagne. This is typically the largest bottle size that champagne is fermented in.
Rehoboam: A 4.5L bottle, equivalent to 6 standard bottles of champagne.
Methuselah: A 6L bottle, equivalent to 8 standard bottles of champagne.
Salmanazar: A 9L bottle, equivalent to 12 standard bottles of champagne.
Balthazar: A 12L bottle, equivalent to 16 standard bottles of champagne.
Nebuchadnezzar: A 15L bottle, equivalent to 20 standard bottles of champagne.
TCA: The abbreviation of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole – the primary cause of cork taint. This chemical compound imparts a musty, unpleasant aroma to the champagne, which can range from blatantly obvious to barely perceptible. TCA can also diminish the flavour of the wine, even when no overt aroma is perceived.
Oxidised: Oxidation, the chemical reaction in which a chemical compound loses electrons, can be beneficial for champagne when controlled and moderated. However, excessive exposure to oxygen can flatten the fruit expression of the champagne and produce undesirable flavours such as vinegar and burnt orange. Wines spoiled by oxidation are said to be oxidised.
Lightstrike: A fault that can occur when champagne is exposed to blue and ultraviolet light. The light transforms amino acids within the wine into unpleasant smelling compounds such as dimethyl disulphide. Milder cases of lightstrike will taint the fruit flavour of the wine; more severe cases will completely occlude the fruit with undesirable characteristics like cabbage and damp cardboard. To protect against lightstrike, many producers are switching from clear glass bottles to brown glass bottles, and are shipping their champagne in protective cellophane packaging.