Whatever your plans for February 14th and whoever you might be sharing it with (a lover, a spouse, a friend, or your very worthy self!), we’ve got fourteen fun facts to help you enjoy that celebratory bubbly. Even better, our list is a guide to champagne itself: where it comes from, what’s on the label and in the bottle, and how it’s made. Get ready to love that bubbly even more than you did before!
Champagne is closer than you think. In fact, the region is just an eight hour flight (RDU to CDG) and a thirty minute train ride (to Reims) away!
With champagne, capitalization matters. When you see Champagne with a capital C, it refers to the region of Champagne; the little c refers to the wine itself.
Bubbles used to be considered a defect! Up until the 17th century, sparkling wine was often considered defective by winemakers. Sparkling wine naturally occurs in cellars if temperatures drop in the autumn before fermentation is complete and the wine is bottled. When temperatures warm in the cellar, the once dormant yeast become active and feast on the remaining sugars, causing effervescence when carbon dioxide from restarted fermentation is trapped in the bottle. We’re glad someone finally recognized the benefits of those bubbles!
Champagne labels are written in a secret, coded language. (And we’re not talking about French!). Each bottle of champagne includes a code indicating the type of producer who made the wine in the bottle, but it’s not actually a secret. Here’s how to crack the code:
RM (récoltant-manipulant): Grower producer, aka grower champagnes. Estate fruit for 95% or more of production.
SR (société de récoltants): Union of growers who pool resources and make wine under one or more brands.
MA (marque d’acheteur). Sell champagne as their own but don’t produce it themselves. One example is Kirkland Signature at Costco.
RC (récoltant-coopérateur): Grower-cooperator. Grape grower takes his/her grapes to a cooperative for winemaking and the wine is sold under the grower’s brand.
ND (négociant-distributeur): Merchant-distributor. Wine merchants who buy finished wine and put their own labels on them.
NM (négotiant-manipulant): Merchant-producer. Most of the large champagne houses and some of the smaller houses - they purchase more than 6% of their fruit from growers. Veuve Clicquot is an example.
CM (cooperative-manipulant): Cooperative-manipulant. Cooperative of growers band together and share resources and sell resulting wines under one brand.
5. September is the magic month. This is when grape harvest typically occurs in Champagne, though it will vary depending on the weather. Grapes are harvested by hand and the amount harvested is regulated.
6. In France, there are over twenty rules governing the pressing of grapes! Grapes are pressed in either traditional presses or through mechanical means such as a pneumatic press. It’s possible that a single Champagne house will use a traditional press for Pinot Noir, but the pneumatic press for Chardonnay.
7. Not all the pressed grapes from Champagne end up as champagne. Some juice also goes to produce still wine, vinegar, fortified wines, and spirits.
8. In France you can grow up to be a cellar master (which is kind of like a French superhero!). It’s the cellar master’s job to blend the vins clairs (separate batches of still wines produced from different vineyards, varieties, and plots) and réserve wines (wine reserved from previous vintages to contribute to later cuvée blends). This creates a cuvée (which simply means, blend). This process of blending is called assemblage.
9. In Champagne, even red grapes can make white wine. Confused? Here’s how you know what color the grapes were before they turned into that beautiful bubbly:
Blanc de Blancs is white wine from white grapes. In Champagne, blanc de blancs is almost always 100% Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs is white wine from red grapes. In Champagne, blanc de noirs is either Pinot Noir or a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Rosé is typically Pinot Noir pressed or undergoing a short maceration before pressing to make a pink base wine.
10. Champagne is the perfect drink for blowing off steam (because it knows what it feels like to be under pressure!). The secondary fermentation of champagne takes place in cellars - it happens very slowly due to the cool temperatures. Carbon dioxide given off during the fermentation is dissolved into liquid, creating the signature fizz. The pressure builds to between five and six atmospheres, or seventy-five to ninety pounds per square inch. That’s at least two times the pressure in your car tires!
11. The cork on a bottle of champagne can withstand six atmospheres of pressure. That seriously strong mushroom-shaped cork is secured by a muselet (wire cage). The bottles are placed in the cellar for a few months to allow for the dosage to integrate well with the rest of the wine. The dosage is a small amount of wine and sugar added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment has been removed.
12. In Champagne, there are no Champagne flutes or coupes. In the land where champagne originates, and increasingly in restaurants here in the US, champagne is served in a white wine glass so that one can enjoy the unique aromas of the wine. And while coupes are fashionable for building champagne towers, their broad shape allows bubbles to quickly dissipate. Personally, we love the Gabriel Glas Gold for any fine wine!
13. It’s possible to open a bottle of champagne without anyone getting hurt! Good news, right? Check out this short (< 3 minute) video and photo series for (safely!) opening and serving champagne.
14. You don’t have to drink the whole bottle. If you want to finish off that bottle, we’re not going to judge you. But if you want to save some for later, no worries. Champagne stoppers can be purchased from a kitchen supply store or from an online retailer. You can get a well-crafted champagne stopper from Italy or France for no more than nine dollars. The wine will keep for two to three days.
Happy February 14th from KnowWines!