A Tasting Tour of French Wine: Champagne

Monday, 14 January, 2013
VineSleuth California Correspondent, Cortney Roude
The next time you plan a trip to France, be sure to set aside a day or two to explore the beautiful countryside of Champagne. This famous winegrowing region, located northeast of Paris, is particularly beautiful and offers many unique wine-tasting opportunities.
Reims, the former capital of Champagne (pronounced rahhnse and loosely rhymes with “wants”), is teeming with medieval architecture and world renown Champagne houses.

A little more than an hour’s train ride from Paris, Reims is the ideal destination for a day trip. You can stroll the historic city’s cobblestone streets, admire the eponymous cathedral, and taste the wines of well-known producers like Mumm, Veuve Cliquot, and Tattinger.

If a trip to France isn’t on your to do list this winter, you can still get into the holiday spirit with a bottle of Champagne. Nothing says “celebration” like popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly. Here’s what to consider before investing in a nice bottle of bubbles:

The distinction between Champagne and sparkling wine

Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. To be considered as such, the wine must be produced in the region of Champagne.

Other types of French sparkling wine are called cremant, which is the word used for sparkling wine made in France outside of the Champagne region. For example, Cremant de Bourgogne is sparkling wine made in Burgundy. Prosecco is what Italians call their bubbly and Cava is what the Spanish call their version. If you’re referring to anything produced outside of France, call it “sparkling wine” just to be safe.

The only three grape varieties allowed in Champagne production are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The first two are varieties I would bet you’re familiar with, but Pinot Meunier doesn’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. Like Pinot Noir, it is a red grape. It ripens earlier than most varieties, which can be beneficial in the cooler regions of Champagne. In a wine blend, it adds fruity flavors and aromatics.

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