What exactly are champagne grapes? This article explains in detail what they are, where they grow and what they're used for.
If I’ve learned anything from working in British pubs, it’s that folks to the east take their liquor making very seriously. If you briefly look at the requirements for scotch as opposed to rye, there are literal laws applied to what qualifies a liquid as being a scotch.
It MUST be aged in oak barrels, it MUST be aged for a minimum of 3 years, etc. Whereas in Canada, where rye is made, the rules are basically “yeah y’know, put some stuff in it, whatever barrel is fine, age it anywhere from 4 hours to 8 years. Let’s call it a day eh bud?”.
The Prestige of the Grape
The same passion and diligence of scotch makers are no different when looking at the process of winemaking in Champagne. You were probably twenty years old when some pompous bartender informed you that “actually.. it’s not champagne, only CHAMPAGNE comes from CHAMPAGNE”.
By this statement, they meant that only grapes grown in the region of Champagne France can be considered as champagne. Most of us use the term champagne in reference to any sparkling wine. Champagne is a very high-quality product, and so referring to that $11 bottle bought from a corner store as “champagne”, could result in cardiac arrest for some innocent Parisian bystander.
Where do Champagne Grapes Grow?
Viticulture is the study of grape cultivation, and an important component of viticulture is understanding the reasoning behind vineyard locations. Locations are categorized by their climate influences: Oceanic, and Continental. Oceanic influences are accompanied by a rather mild and consistent temperature throughout the seasons with steady rainfall.
Continental influences are accompanied by more drastic seasonal temperature changes and varying degrees of sunlight. Champagne grapes exist in a predominately Oceanic zone with continental tendencies peppered in. These juicy balls of glory are planted at the northernmost limit of their cold tolerance, and this is where that fresh and crisp taste comes from.
It makes sense to correlate a cold, damp climate with a fresh, springy flavor. Grapes grown in a very hot a humid landscape would be more heavy and juicy, like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
What do they Become?
There are seven kinds of Champagne grapes grown in this salty-misty region, the primary grapes being: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The secondary grapes (because of their vulnerability to the climate) are Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petite Meslier, and Petite Arbanne. Under the rules of Appellation, it is illegal to label any product as Champagne if it does not come from the region!
The Appellation is basically a guidebook used to identify where certain grapes are grown, grape yields, alcohol levels, etc. All Champagne vineyards follow identical practices, from sourcing to pressing methods, all the way to the length of fermentation.
Un Peu D’Histoire
Champagne has been around for much longer than you may think! Romans were the first peoples to plant in the Champagne region in the 5th century, but it wasn’t always gorgeously bubbly. The first-ever recorded sparkling wine was called Blanquette de Limoux and was created by Benedictine monks in 1531 when their wine was bottled before the fermentation period finished.
The bubbles were originally considered as a flaw in the wine, and even labeled as Le Vin Du Diable which means “the devil’s wine” (next tattoo idea?) This fizzy concoction caused quite a stir as the pressure from the carbonation was too much; corks would spontaneously pop off, and bottles would explode. I mean, who wouldn’t consider spontaneous explosion to be a demonic activity?
As early as the 17th century, Champagne manufacturers had the idea to market their product towards the quickly growing middle-class society and started to use royal emblems on their labels. The consumption of champagne was successfully linked to nobility and status, and funnily enough, that conception is still alive and well today!
But let’s be real, you’re not going to be too happy with yourself when you order your first glass of real Champy and get slapped with a $47 bill for one flute.
Can you eat Champagne grapes?
They can be enjoyed like any other grape! Best with cheese.
Are Champagne grapes sweet?
They are the perfect balance of sweet and tart, with the skin having a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Where can you get Champagne grapes?
Most supermarkets will have champagne grapes, best to purchase when you know they’re in season!
Why is Champagne so expensive?
Because of the harsh climate of the Champagne region. The unique taste comes from the specific region, and with more difficult terrain and climate, comes more unforeseen costs.