Raw, sweet, dry or semi-dry, you could get lost. Why dose a champagne differently, what is the point of distinguishing its bubbles? What does the nose or color of a champagne indicate? Will it be more or less roasted, acidic, with citrus notes… So many questions answered by Audrey Jacquart, oenologist at Nicolas, a famous wine merchant since 1822. She helps us understand champagnes, ideal for developing our knowledge on the subject, or even, why not, appear as an expert at your next family gathering.
How is champagne created?
The production of champagne is done in several stages. Like an art, Audrey Jacquart specifies “the first stage concerns the production of the base wine, the white wine which will be used to make the champagne. It is then generally a fairly acidic wine. The yeast and sugar are then added. The yeasts are used to “eat” the sugars, which adds extra strength to the alcohol and forms the bubble. Next comes the resting stage, which we call aging. This lasts a minimum of 15 months for so-called “non-vintage” champagnes and a minimum of 36 months for so-called “vintage” champagnes.
“There is no limit in time per se.” The reason ? The yeasts which have transformed the sugars into alcohol, and therefore produced gas, degrade and produce very complex molecules, which bring all the finesse, the fatty and elegant side to the champagne. » The more a champagne ages, the more subtle it will be. The wine expert continues, “the production of champagne does not stop there”.
Once the aging period has been reached, comes the riddling stage, which consists of putting the yeast deposit in the neck. A step that requires patience, since all the particles must aggregate in the cork. “. A preparation for the next step which consists of placing the bottles “head down, on wooden desks, and on which they will be turned and thus stirred. Once we estimate that the entire deposit has arrived in the cork, we can move on to the intermediate stage between riddling and disgorging: glazing.
Glazing consists of “glazing” the cork, which contains deposits from the champagne during riddling. The aim is to eliminate all traces of yeast in the bottle, by immersing it in a refrigerating liquid, down to -27°C.
Next comes the last major stage: disgorging, when the ice cube is removed from the bottle.
“Finally, the final touch, we add an expedition liqueur, a mixture of old wine and sugar.” The expert continues, “sometimes only wine is added to create a “brut nature” champagne, without adding any sugar other than those naturally present. From the moment it is added, the champagne becomes brut, from 6 to 12 g of sugar/L.” This dosage can go up to 50g of sugar per liter, and a so-called “sweet” champagne.
During this production time, the champagne develops multiple flavors. How to distinguish the different categories and understand them, Audrey Jacquart guides us.
Distinguish the categories of champagnes
Champagne is categorized into three classifications: according to its aging period, the soil in which it is produced and its grape variety.
Identify the types of champagne
“In terms of type of champagne, we find “vintage” and “non-vintage”. Non-vintages are those which have no year, no date is indicated. They are called “raw without years”. This type of champagne concerns the largest category, coming from several vintages, a puzzle of several vintages. Putting them together guarantees a style of champagne, the signature of the house that produced it. “. Opposite, these are the “vintages”, champagnes made entirely from grapes of the same year, indicated on the labeling.
Identify a premier cru from a grand cru
Then, there are the “premiers crus” and “grands crus”, distinguished according to the area of production. “A characterization of the plots assigned according to the soil and geography of the breeding, since it brings a certain balance and complexity to each wine. »
Identify the categories of champagnes
Let’s come to the categories of champagnes, those which will partly dictate their character on the palate. According to the expert, four categories stand out. “Among champagnes, we categorize blanc de noir, made from grapes with black skin and white juice. It will mainly be a champagne made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Then the blanc de blanc, mainly from the Chardonnay grape variety, a grape with white skin and white juice. Then, we find the whites, which are a possible blend of all the Champagne grape varieties. That is to say, the three main grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Finally, we distinguish rosé champagne, a champagne to which we add either a very small quantity of red wine from Coteau Champenois, which will give it its unique color, or, as some houses do, “bleeding champagnes”. Juice is then taken from a vintage of red wine. »
Once the bottle in hand, our flute filled, it is time to analyze our champagne.
The art of identifying a champagne
Generally speaking, we observe a champagne by the color and the bubble, identified by sight. This is followed by the nose of the champagne, a stage of apprehension of the sensations that the champagne will provide on the palate, the “attack”, this first sensation in the mouth. “The latter will be more or less tangy, more or less tender, soft, depending on the sugar dosage. »The entire aromatic palette is then revealed, “which develops in the mouth and will be more or less long, depending on the finesse of the champagne and its complexity, identified on the nose”.
Read the champagne from the eye to the nose
First of all, as mentioned above, we analyze champagne by observing it. Audrey Jacquart explains, “the first elements that will best describe a champagne will be the color (its appearance) and the bubble”. The first major indicators of the age of the champagne, itself a precursor of a more or less light champagne. Quite an art!
The champagne dress, in the prime of life
The color refers to the color, shine and transparency of champagne. “The “younger” a champagne, the more we will go towards green reflections, a light color. The “older” a champagne, the more we will go towards golden reflections, a dark color, it’s unique to each person.” A first indication also on the taste of champagne, since, “the more evolved a champagne, the more we will find toasted notes, like candied fruit for example. Whereas, the younger the color, the more we will keep notes of citrus and fresh fruit. »
The champagne bubble, a guarantee of quality
The champagne sparkles and sparkles, like its bubbles. Are these particularly fine? “It’s a sign of quality,” Audrey Jacquart explains to us. For good reason, as the champagne ages in the cellar, its bubble becomes finer, “conversely, if you observe a rounder and larger bubble, it is a young champagne”. Which one to turn to? It all depends on individual preference. The bubbles not only add to the appearance of this festive wine, they impact the entire champagne. An indicator not to be neglected, since it gives an indication of its lightness. “Bubbles impact everything related to sensation on the palate. A large bubble announces a more aggressive champagne. With a fine bubble, you will have a feeling of lightness, even creamy. » In the mouth, the champagne transports us. To fully tame the flavor, comes the “champagne nose” stage.
Fresh or mineral, distinguish the taste by the nose
We call “champagne nose” what we perceive by smell above the flute. “After observing the color and the bubble to the eye, comes the style of champagne, which we grasp in the nose, and which generally continues in the mouth.” Identifying the nose of the champagne means understanding whether it will be rather fresh or mineral.
We distinguish three main categories of champagne noses, and therefore variations of tastes: “those more with notes of candied fruits, citrus fruits, or minerality. »
A roasted champagne is said to be a champagne whose nose will have “roasted notes of almond or peanut, candied fruit or dried apricots. » A wintery and spicy connotation “rather reserved for aged champagnes. »
As for younger champagnes, “they will be more acidic, with citrus notes. A nose which will then reveal airs of white flowers, like boxwood, ferns. » In short, more spring-like notes.
Finally, the third nose, the mineral. This one is distinguished by more iodized notes.
The nose is therefore a first indication of the taste that the champagne will have. A taste which, moreover, “develops entirely naturally, without any addition of materials” specifies Audrey Jacquart.
Grape variety, dosage… what are they?
Pinot noir, Meunier or Chardonnay… the grape varieties of champagne
When it comes to taste, “everything depends on the aging period, but also the grapes used”. Champagne being a blended wine, each “grape variety”, the variety of vine plant, will connote differently the taste of the champagne and its finesse. Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the main ones. Audrey Jacquart specifies, “Pinot noir represents 37% of the Champagne vineyards, Pinot Meunier 32% and Chardonnay 30%. Then, the last percentage of the vineyard is planted with pinot gris, blanc, petit meunier and arbane. Very small grape varieties that we don’t necessarily talk about since they are in the large minority, generally drowned in the crowd. We will call “mono-varietal” champagne when only one grape variety has been used. As mentioned above, “blanc de blanc, for example, is a single varietal, made only with Chardonnay. “. A champagne often acclaimed for this characteristic which makes it particularly fine, to the point of being considered, for some, as “the most prestigious of grape varieties”.
Brut, sweet, dry or semi-dry… the dosage of champagne
Finally, comes the dosage, the final touch to the creation of the champagne, almost a signature. From sweet to natural brut, “the dosages are multiple, they represent the weight of sugar that is added to champagne, in the form of “expedition liqueur”, a mixture of sugar and old wine. Each dosage will depend on the identity that the House wants to give. » What is the point of measuring a champagne? The expert responds: “the dosage characterizes the champagne and gives it a particular singularity, the same champagne, with or without dosage, will be totally different. “. Just as there are different grape varieties, the dosages are divided into seven appellations.
Sweet champagne, (50 g of sugar / l)
Semi-dry champagne (32 to 50 g of sugar/l)
Dry champagne (17 to 32 g of sugar/l)
Extra-dry champagne (12 to 17 g of sugar/l)
Brut champagne (6 to 12 g of sugar/l)
Extra-brut champagne (0 to 6 g of sugar/l)
Brut nature champagne (0 to 3 g of sugar / L)*, the only sugars contained in it are sugars “naturally present in the wine, without added liqueur” concludes the expert.
Dosages indicated on all labels which bring all the deliciousness to this sparkling wine.
How do you recognize a good champagne?
When asked which champagne great champagne lovers and connoisseurs prefer, the answer is unequivocal: “champagnes with fine bubbles.” A good champagne reveals a very fine bubble and a very nice length in the mouth. It doesn’t matter if it is fruity, mineral, roasted, vintage or not, it is the finesse of the bubble and the length that counts. »
“The finesse of the bubble and the length in the mouth are the two key elements of a good champagne”
In short, this art is to be savored and shared, from the eye to the palate, for sublime and unforgettable tastings.
To consume with moderation.