The Fiery guide to all the Champagne! Part 1

In general, I always feel in my element when I can be my own snarky, sarcastic, funny self and make people laugh instead of cry (that hasn’t happened….yet). I also dearly love being able to do what I want….and drink a lot of champagne.

However, these qualities aren’t always present when you travel somewhere in a group. And yet, I distinctly remember sitting in the back of my friend’s car, feeling probably the happiest I had in a long time. We were singing along to “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (ladies, find it here – just for future reference 😉). I was in a car full of funny, fantastic women, including some of my best friends, making snarky, sarcastic jokes. Driving towards the Champagne region in France. Life’s best moments are very simple if you can appreciate the small things. Oh, and if there is champagne in your immediate future of course!

Fiery guide to Champagne region

I thought this was a Fiery guide to the Champagne region?

Yes, relax, nous sommes arrivés! Yes this is part 1 (of 2) of the Fiery guide to the Champagne region! I’ll take you through the general lay-out of the region, and share a basic Champagne 101. I’m not a wine expert – although I will start my certification this year – so this is based on the information I learned while in the region and further online research. I also share any reflections I had during the trip, and how it contributed to me living my most Fiery life.

Can I just set my navigation to ‘Champagne’ and head off?

A quick warning here: many places in France have similar/same names. Champagnethe Champagne region. The Champagne region is located in North-East France, in the historical province of Champagne (this is the source of the name). This region is approximately 160KM from Paris (100 miles) and consists of five different regions, with Épernay and Reims as ‘capitals’ of the region.

Fiery Guide Champagne
Source @Vinepair

As Reims is home to a few large Champagne houses we wanted to visit, and has the most infrastructure, we booked a hotel there. We only visited the Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne regions – the two regions surrounding Reims and Épernay.

Champagne 101

A quick introduction to Champagne – so you can be an obnoxious know-it-all just as we were on our tours!

A quick overview of the Champagne region

Fiery Guide Champagne
(Source)
How to produce those delicious busy bubbles?

Generally, three types of grapes are used to produce Champagne: the white Chardonnay grapes, the dark Pinot Noir grapes, and the dark Meunier grapes. Champagne has three styles, made from these three grapes:

  1. Blanc de Noirs: Champagne made from the black grapes, Pinot Noir and Meunier, either blended or on their own. (White from black grapes)
  2. Blanc de Blancs: This style only uses Chardonnay grapes. (White from white grapes)
  3. Rosé: Rosé is made in two ways. Either the skins from the black grapes are left longer to extract some pink colour, or some red wine is added to the white wine to get the perfect pinkish hue.
Fiery guide to Champagne region
How do we go from wine to bubbles?
  1. Harvest those beautiful grapes! Harvesting usually begins around September (in the first two weeks, depending on the weather).
  2. Ferment those grapes: Champagne starts off as regular white wine, and is fermented in large vats. From these vats, the majority of wine goes into bottles for the next steps.
  3. Bottle those grapes: generally, wine from different years are used to make Champagne. This allows the Champagne house to keep consistent quality and taste over the years. Yeast and sugar aid with the second fermentation step. Bottles are closed with a bottle cap and laid in underground cellars where it is dark and cool.
  4. Bubbles! The second fermentation is where the magic happens! The yeast added reacts with the sugar, producing CO2.
  5. Age those bubbles: depending on the Champagne house, the Champagne will rest for anywhere between 15 months – 5 years. The minimum for Champagne is 15 months for non-vintage, and three years for vintage Champagne. This is a large part why Champagne is more expensive than other wines – it takes longer to produce!
  6. Riddle that bottle: An important step I learned about during the tours – riddling. This means turning the bottle in s specific way, to make sure that the sedimentation (from the yeast) doesn’t stick to the bottle.
  7. Disgorging: Another important step I had not heard about until the tours. Of course, we don’t want the sedimentation making our beautiful bubbles unclear. In most Champagne houses, the bottles are turned upside down, so the sediment sinks to the neck of the bottle. This is then frozen – so when the bottle is opened, the frozen part shoots out. We then have clear Champagne! (see The Fiery Explorer’s Guide to all the Champagne part 2 for more information about the tours!)
  8. Dose those bubbles: aka the dosage step. While disgorging the bottle, some of the champagne spills out, which needs to be re-filled, so all bottles contain the same amount. Champagne houses refill the bottles with a mix of wine (non-bubbly) and sugar. The amount of sugar determines the style of Champagne (Brut/Demi-sec/etc.).
  9. Cork those bottles! The last step is corking the bottles, and affixing the metal wire. Then the Champagne is ready for consumption!
  10. Drink those bubbles! I know this isn’t a production step – but it is the step we love most right 😉?

In Part 2 of the Fiery Explorer’s guide to the Champagne region, I explain which Champagne Houses we visited, recommendations for buying fantastic Champagne under €20 and share where to stay to maximize your time drinking all the delicious bubbles! Part 2 will be published next week.

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