The Terroir of Champagne is Unique
This may be your last chance to buy Chinese Champagne. Thank your lucky stars for that.
China has finally recognized Champagne as a protected region. Really? Champagne has been around only since the 17th century. The Chinese government has agreed to use the name and process “Champagne” only when discussing the sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne AOC region.
By agreeing, China will stop labeling their sparkling wines with the word “Champagne”. How big of them. It’s about time they got on board.
Champagne is truly special. Champagne may only be labeled as such if it is grown and produced in the distinct region of the same name, located about an hour east of Paris by train. In addition, the only grape varieties that can be used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. However, it may be produced in different styles.
Blanc de blanc champagne is made from the region’s only permitted white grape, Chardonnay. Blanc de noirs is produced from the black grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Rosés are made by blending red and white base wine.
However, there are a handful of sparkling wine producers who are allowed to use the term. In 2006, the United States and the European Union signed a wine trade agreement stating that no new producers would use the term on bottles. However, if a winery was granted permission prior, they were grandfathered in, meaning they may continue using the term champagne on their labels.
The French are serious about their wines and their terroir, the special name given to describe the unique characteristics of the soil in a specific region. Sparlking wines produced in other parts of France must label bottles as cremant, even though most are produced in the exact method used by Champagne producers. And, it’s been this way for a very, very long time. How long? Since 1919. That was when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending WWII. The French were thinking way ahead and got a limitation on the use of the word. They knew they had something special.
Many war veterans returned home with a taste for French champagne, my father included. My dad was stationed in Europe. Before heading home, he bought a bottle of champagne. When got his orders to return stateside, he cradled this bottle home to share with my mom. Unfortunately, my grandfather got to to the bottle before my parents had a chance to drink it. He was not very sophisticated and took one sip and poured it bottle down the drain. It wasn’t funny at the time but my mom laughs about it to this day.
This long-awaited action by China brings them into compliance with other nations who promise to recognize the distinct characteristics and attributes of a specific wine region or spirit production area. China also officially recognizes to Napa Valley, Scotch and Cognac. Four down, hundreds to go. The rest of the wine-producing nations have been on board for some time.
The Italians have their own style of sparkling wine called spumante or prosecco. If you’d like a glass of sparkling wine when visiting South African , you should ask for Cap Classique. Spain and many United States wineries produce sparkling wine in the same, more expensive method as champagne. Spanish Cava comes from an area just outside of Barcelona in the Penedès region of Catalonia. Producers use two black grapes called Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada, the only white grape variety authorized.
Try an experiment. By a bottle of cava, a California sparkling wine and a French champagne. Cavas are quite inexpensive and there are several responsibly priced California sparking wines available. Taste then side by side, taking time to look at the color, voraciousness of the bubbles and of course the mouth feel. Write a comment and share your experience. See if you can taste the terroir from each region.
China is an awakening consumer giant, but I guess sometimes even giants must take baby steps.