Your Complete Guide To Champagne

If there is a drink that evokes images of celebration, sophistication and decadence within one word, it’s surely champagne. Its seductive fizz and delicate taste have lent it an aristocratic appeal and the choice of drink at celebrations for centuries. Indeed, for many, the elaborate lore and culture around champagne holds as much appeal as the taste of the drink itself. Even how to open champagne has bred its own set of elaborate customs and rituals. Some of this has practical considerations; champagne is highly carbonated and sending a cork flying in the wrong direction can be dangerous to both people and property. The truly adventurous may want to experiment with sabrage — essentially the art of using the blunt end of a sword to open a bottle of champagne. Allegedly originating with Napoleon and his soldiers, it makes for an impressive visual spectacle. We might just suggest that you experiment with some cheaper bottles before trying it on your best wine or champagne.

But what is champagne? At its core, champagne is a style of sparkling wine named for its place of origin — the Champagne region of France. While once used as a generic term for many types of sparkling wine, in recent years it’s become a specific appellation, helping protect the rich legacy and long history of the drink. Wine has been cultivated in the Champagne region since at the least the 5th century CE, during a period of Roman occupation. However, sparkling wine would not be developed until some centuries later, with one of the earliest known examples stemming from 1531, apparently created by the Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire. Various champagne producers — today known as Champagne Houses — would emerge in the following centuries, as both winemaking and glassmaking techniques improved, allowing this bubbly beverage to be manufactured and stored more easily.

Champagne as the modern drinker would recognise it emerged in the 19th century, and rapidly became a hit across Europe. Today, champagne is known worldwide for its distinctive flavour and association with celebration.

Champagne Coupe Glasses

How is champagne made?

The initial process for making champagne is not dissimilar from making still wine; grapes are harvested and then pressed for their juices. These are then fermented into a dry, acidic wine with all of the natural sugars removed.

While some may be set aside to create a “vintage” champagne (i.e. one sourced entirely from one harvest of grapes from a specific year), the majority will be blended with a mix of similarly produced wines from other vineyards and harvest years to create non-vintage champagne. While this is something often frowned upon for many other styles of wine, it’s become something of an art form in the Champagne region, to ensure the various house styles of each manufacturer year after year.

Afterwards, the wine is bottled and the second fermentation occurs, bringing it closer to its final form as champagne. A mixture of wine, sugar and yeast is applied to the wine, infusing it with bubbles. This process takes anywhere from two weeks to three months.

The resulting sediment is slowly removed by a process of slowly inverting the bottle (a process known as riddling) for several weeks, and then ageing the wine further to eventually disgorge these unwanted elements. Finally, an additional dose of sugar is added to the mix, and the champagne is ready to be sold to the eager drinker.

How long does champagne last unopened?

The general consensus on how to store champagne is that it should be kept out of sunlight, in a cool, temperature-controlled environment. If you’re planning to store it for a long-term period, it’s also best to store it upright to minimise the oxygen permeating through the cork, and to maintain the drink’s effervescence. Non-vintage champagnes can be stored for three or four years before opening them, while vintage cuvées will usually last from five to ten years. As with any wine that’s been stored for a number of years, the flavour and colour of the drink will gradually alter over time.

Does champagne go off after this period? Not exactly; but it can become increasingly flat or sour, losing the charm normally associated with the drink. And like any other wine, there can also be issues with corking over time, if the cork deteriorates.

How many glasses of champagne are in a bottle?

On average, a 750ml bottle of champagne will fill six champagne flutes.

Is champagne gluten free?

Yes. In fact, most wines are naturally gluten-free, as the manufacturing process doesn’t usually include ingredients that include gluten. While cross-contamination can occur during the packaging process, it’s unlikely — however, it’s usually advisable to check the label to ensure that there are no traces of gluten.

What glass do you serve champagne in?

Champagne is best served in a champagne flute; this will help preserve the flavour and effervescence of the drink. Pouring champagne into a wide-mouthed glass will cause the bubbles to dissipate more rapidly, creating a less pleasurable drinking experience.