What is champagne? - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

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Champagne is often described as smelling and tasting like a freshly risen loaf. That's because a double dose of yeast is added to give this famous wine its fizz and in doing so leaves a trace of its creamy flavours behind: méthode champenoise turns a very dry French white wine into a sweeter and more expensive sparkling version.

A blend of three grape varieties is first made into a white wine base: Chardonnay provides the main crisp apple and lemon flavours, Pinot Noir grapes add a delicate strawberriness, while Pinot Meunier increases the immediate floral bouquet.

This first stage wine is bottled, but now never sold. It used to be. Up until the mid-seventeenth century the wine that won favour with the kings of England, Spain and France was still. Later technical advances in bottle making made sparkling champagne possible.

Adding a dosage of extra sugar and yeast to the base wine causes fermentation to restart and its by-product carbon dioxide gas to be captured within the bottle - strong thick-walled bottles must be used to maintain the resulting high pressures.  Opening the bottle allows the gas to escape and cause champagne's characteristic froth and bubbles.

This double fermentation wine making does require great skill and is reflected in champagne's price. Expect to pay up to £100 a bottle, but only £18 is required to buy one of the many supermarket own-label versions.

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About WineUncorked and its editor, Paula Goddard Read more