Our final expert guide of 2022, written by Tom Stevenson, is all about Champagne! This guide offers the most general overview of Champagne, while our existing guide covers history, and a final installment planned for early next year will focus on viticulture and winemaking. Read an excerpt of the new guide below, or click over to the Expert section to read the whole thing!
Situated 145 kilometers (90 miles) east of Paris is Champagne, a region spanning 35,208 hectares across chalk and limestone soils. Champagne produces over 300 million bottles of sparkling wine each year and brings in 20% of France’s wine revenue, though it accounts for only 4% of all French vineyard land. From the Massif de Saint-Thierry in the north to the upstart Aube in the south, there are over 36,000 landowners within the AOC, with 56% owning less than one hectare.
By numbers, prestige, and popularity, this is one of the world’s most important winemaking regions. This guide will dive into the grapes, places, and styles that make Champagne so special.
Champagne is the most northerly major wine region in France. It is located approximately 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of the United Kingdom. This position determines Champagne’s climate, the most important factor of terroir when distinguishing Champagne from the rest of the sparkling wine world. Nowhere else can Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier grapes be grown on such a vast scale and achieve ripeness at a low ABV and a high level of acidity.
The low alcohol and high acid of Champagne’s base wines result in a lean structure ideal for bottle fermentation. Because of the fresh, crisp, undeveloped flavors of these wines, Champagne can seamlessly soak up the slowly evolving, yeast-complexed aromas of autolysis. Of all the factors contributing to Champagne’s terroir, climate and location are by far the most important. The height and slope of Champagne’s vineyards, and even its famous chalk soil, are secondary, as important as they may be in defining differences in relative quality.
Throughout history, Champagne’s boundaries have at times extended north into modern-day Belgium, south into Burgundy, west and southwest into the Loire Valley, and east into Lorraine. The boundaries of Champagne’s sparkling wine appellation itself have been fought over as recently as 1911 and were shrunk by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO) in 1951. Today, Champagne is separated from Belgium by the forested hills of the Ardennes, and its vineyards are spread across five departments: Marne (66% of Champagne’s vineyards), Aube (23%), Aisne (10%), Haute-Marne (0.002%), and Seine-et-Marne (1%).