Millions of Champagne corks will be popped between now and the end of the year. The appeal of Champagne, unlike other wine regions, is not based on quality alone but also on the illusion of luxury. It is interesting that while the region of Champagne is one of the highest yielding, in terms of kilos of grapes per hectare, the average price of a bottle of a well known branded Champagne costs many times more than a bottle of decent quality wine. Consumers are happy to pay a premium.
The key player in the world of Champagne has been the cellarmaster, the person responsible for preparing the wines to ensure that there is a consistency in style for the prestigious brands. In other prestigious wine areas the focus is on the land and the winemakers knowledge of their vineyards, soils and ability to pick just at the optimum moment before starting to make the wine. The key differences are that the cellarmaster is seeking continuity, the winemaker is seeking to maximise the quality of the wines given the potential of the grapes from specific vineyards.
Another curious fact is that while other classic regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy have hundreds of AOCs, the French equivalent of a D.O.P, to highlight the differences of the wines due to the grape variety, soil and microclimate or to use the French term ‘terroir’, Champagne has only one, Champagne AOC. Can we then assume that there are no differences within Champagne? The answer is, no.
As in Burgundy there are Premier Crus and Grand Crus, however, the difference in Champagne is that the terms are given to a village and the surrounding vineyards. In Burgundy these highly prestigious classifications are given to specific vineyards.
Champagne has many different soils and microclimates producing different styles of wine, however, the demand for consistency and continuity and consequently blending plays such an important role.
Traditionally in Champagne the growers have sold their grapes to the big wineries who then make wines that are blended to then become branded Champagne, a model that has worked for hundreds of years. However, changes are taking place with a new generation of growers making their own Champagnes that have their own character and style.
Today you can find a much more diverse range of styles and qualities outside of the major brands, which still account for the vast majority of Champagne sold around the world. Many growers want to make wine that highlight the characteristics of their vineyards that distinguishes them from others. In doing so they no longer have to answer to the demands of the powerful wineries, they are breaking the mould and making changes the result of which is that there are many more interesting Champagnes available beyond the major brands.
Maybe ‘war’ is to strong a word but the traditionalists, who are against the individualist style of wines base on ‘terroir’ and new generation of Champagne growers making quality sparkling wines are challenging the status quo of the region.
Champagne is not just for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Explore and enjoy the most versatile classic wine of the world at any time.