Champagne  is the Wine Region of the Month

by A.J. McClellan, Certified Sommelier and Founder of Roots and Water

The techniques of sparkling winemaking did not originate with the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, nor was the first purposely sparkling wine produced in the region of Champagne. Regardless, through centuries of refinement, champagne has become the world’s leading sparkling wine and the vinous embodiment of luxury and celebration.

Dom Pérignon’s lasting contributions to modern champagne lie in the techniques of assemblage (blending) and viticulture. The méthode champenoise, a complicated process involving secondary fermentation in the bottle, is at the heart of Champagne’s character. The term, like “champagne” itself, is protected by the EU, and may only be applied to sparkling wines produced according to the prescribed method within the Champagne AOP. Wines made in the fashion of champagne but produced elsewhere may be labeled as traditional method (méthode traditionnelle) or classic method (méthode classique).

The region of Champagne is located along the 48th parallel. With a mean annual temperature of only 50°F, ripening is extremely variable, and quality can differ greatly from year to year, requiring the houses of Champagne to blend between vintages to achieve a consistency in their house styles. Grape acidity usually remains markedly high—an important attribute for sparkling wines. Frost, rain, fungal disease and hail are serious concerns for growers in the cold, Atlantic-influenced climate. Porous, belemnite chalk subsoil is pushed to the surface on the appellation’s slopes, absorbing heat to protect the vines at night and providing excellent drainage in the wet climate. Belemnite chalk, derived from the fossilized remains of millions of extinct cephalopods, has a high limestone content, which allows vine roots to dig deeply and is linked to increased acidity.

The three principal grapes authorized for the production of champagne are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. Each grape contributes a different element: Chardonnay provides elegance and longevity, Pinot Noir supports the wine’s structure, richness and body, and Pinot Meunier lends a youthful fruitiness and approachability. The average vine age hovers around 20 years, as the lowered productivity of old vines is undesirable to most houses in Champagne, and the pressing of grapes is strictly monitored.

The 357 villages authorized to grow grapes for champagne are split between five districts: the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, and the Côte des Bars (the Aube). Cru status is awarded to entire villages in Champagne, rather than individual vineyards or properties. However, the areas authorized for cultivation within each commune are strictly defined. Seventeen villages have grand cru status and 42 are classified as premier cru according to their rankings in the Échelle de Crus.

A.J. McClellan founded Roots and Water to give his clients a place to come and find the most extraordinary fine and rare wines in the world and to have a place that fellow oenophiles can gather to share their passion for wine. The private, members-only, speak-easy, wine club is located in the Design District, offering a quiet, safe, and fun place to learn and experience wine like never before.

About the Savvy Wine Cellar Wine Tasting Club:  Roots and Water Wine Club, in partnership with Estate Life, offers you the opportunity to join the Savvy Cellar Wine Tasting Club. By joining, you get access to monthly wine tastings, free wine delivery, and private special events at the Wine Club. Every month we will present information on a new wine region and then hold tastings of benchmark wines from the region. Whether you’re learning wine or an existing oenophile, you’ll want to take advantage of this exclusive environment and ultra-luxury experience. For just $50, you’ll get all 12 months of access for the tastings and your first bottle of wine hand-selected by one of R&W’s expert sommeliers.

There are eight styles of Champagne:

  • Non-Vintage (NV): Generally brut in style, they represent a house’s signature style, and the blender’s job is to ensure its consistency from year to year. Non-vintage champagne makes up at least three-quarters of the market.

  • Vintage: 100% of the blend must come from the stated vintage. The better houses declare a vintage only in exceptional years.

  • Blanc de Blancs: 100% Chardonnay is required, but it is not always sourced from the Côte des Blancs. They may be vintage-dated or NV.

  • Blanc de Noirs: Produced solely from black grapes. The wine usually displays richness, intensity, and weight.

  • Prestige Cuvée (Tête de Cuvée): Usually the finest and most expensive bottling that a house offers, the prestige cuvée is typically (but not always) vintage-dated and aged for a number of years prior to release.

  • Single Vineyard Champagne: These wines are not required to carry a vintage date, although they invariably do, and the style represents a stark departure from the blending philosophy of the region.

  • Special Club Prestige Cuvée: The Special Club bottlings are estate-bottled, vintage-dated wines that represent the pinnacle of each individual grower’s style and production. Each vintage, the champagne must be voted on and approved by a panel of peers to keep the Special Club label.

  • Rosé Champagne: Vintage, NV, and prestige cuvées may also be produced in pink versions. The wine gains its hue through extended skin contact, is less common than blending.

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Your annual membership fee of $50 per person gets you:

  • your first bottle of wine at Roots and Cellar free (sommeliers choice of the month)

  • free pop-up tastings for the member plus one (additional guests at $20 each)

  • VIP private event invitations