If an alien landed in your bar or pub and asked the difference was between a bottle of Bollinger and Jacob's Creek sparkling pinot noir chardonnay, the chances are you could tell it that one was produced in France and the other in Australia; that one was a champagne and the other wasn't; and, at a push, that to be a champagne the wine has to be made in the Champagne region of France.
Chances are you wouldn't be able to tell them much more than that. But there is a lot more to know - how the producers make the bubbles, what grapes go into making a champagne…Well, after a little bit of research, especially referencing information provided by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, here is a brief overview of the world of champagne and sparkling wines.How sparkling wine is made
There are three ways in which you can make a wine sparkle:
- Fermentation in the bottle (the traditional way)
- Fermentation in a tank
If using the traditional method, the wine maker will take a mixture of base wines (red and/or white) to create the wine. After blending is complete and the liquid bottled, a small amount of liqueur de triage (literally 'the liquid that sets the strength'), which is a mixture of sugar, yeast nutrients and clarifying agent, is added. This starts the secondary fermentation (the first fermentation makes the still wine) and creates the fizz.
The secondary fermentation can also take place outside the bottle in a tank - the vast majority of the well-known German sparkling wine sekt is fermented in a tank rather rather than in the bottle.
Or, if you are looking for a cheaper way of making a sparkling wine, you can add the fizz artificially, using a cylinder of gas to put the bubbles in. …and what makes it a champagne instead of a sparkling wine?
Champagne can only be made using grapes grown in the Champagne region in the North East of France.Vintage champagne can only be called a vintage if 100 per cent of the base wines come from the same year.Major sparkling wine producers around the world
Most of the sparkling wines produced in the New World rely on chardonnay and pinot noir, which are grown in vineyards with slightly cooler climates than most.
In Australia we are looking at the Yarra Valley or Tasmania. In New Zealand the Marlborough region is famous for its sparklers, while the US has Oregon and the Carneros region of California.
The biggest producer of sparkling wine in the world behind France (which, in addition to champagne, produces a large amount of sparkling wine across other vineyard regions) is Spain. This is almost entirely down to its production of cava, more details of which you can find later in this feature (see pages 46-47).
Italy produces a large volume of sparkling wines, mainly prosecco. According to figures from the Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Consortium 11.5 million bottles of 2006 sparkling prosecco have been exported by consortium member producers.
UKAnd now even in the UK we are starting to produce some top-notch sparkling wines. The awards have begun to roll in for the many (still) white wines we have produced. However, our cool climate means growing conditions, particularly in the south of the country in Sussex and Kent, are not dissimilar to those in Champagne and as a result it is our sparklers that are now coming in for recognition.
Champagne - some facts:- Legend has it that champagne was invented by a French monk named Dom Perignon in 1668
- However, other evidence suggests English coopers (makers of casks) had begun adding sugar to still wine to create fizzy wine some six years earlier
- The Champagne region is the most northern vineyard region in France. The average temperature during the growing season is 16ÞC, which means the grapes struggle to achieve full ripeness, explaining why champagne is quite acidic
- Grapes used to make champagne tend to be a mix of pinot noir, chardonnay and the less well known pinot meunier