Pop. Fizz. Clink. There’s nothing like experiencing a really good bottle of Champagne — except, of course, the process of buying it. With tons of sparkling options displayed in your local shop, why does Champagne really call for a price tag twice as high (at minimum) as the other bottles of bubbly? Many reasons. Let us explain why Champagne is so damn expensive.
It’s important to first understand the general misconception of what Champagne is. Champagne has somehow become a generic term for sparkling wine, but in fact, true Champagne must come from the Champagne region in northern France. Any other sparklers, even those from other French regions, must be labelled in a different way. Producers of Champagne undergo a much more rigorous winemaking process than other sparkling wine producers. Here’s why:
The harsh climate of Champagne causes the winemaking process to be even more difficult than normal, therefore contributing to a heftier price tag on the final product. With an average annual temperature of only 52 degrees, the climate is nowhere near as lush and tropical as Provence or California. The latitude that the region sits on (49 degrees) barely makes the cusp of acceptable winemaking temperatures (30-50 degrees,) causing the grapes to be at higher risk for devastating temperatures and severe conditions. A dual climate system comprised of both oceanic and continental influences doesn’t help either; oceanic influence allows for little variation in seasonal temperatures, while continental influence can bring killer winter frosts.
Champagne is produced via méthode traditionelle, also known as méthode champenoise. This process is both rigorous and time consuming; first, the wine must undergo its primary fermentation prior to bottling, then undergo a secondary fermentation in bottle. The second fermentation occurs when the tirage, a mixture of yeast and sugar, is added to the bottle. Post- secondary fermentation, the dead yeasts (known as lees) must be removed via remuage, or riddling, a lengthy process by which the upside down bottles are turned little by little to gradually shake the lees to the bottom of the neck. When the lees have all reached the top of the neck, the bottlenecks are cooled to freeze the collection of lees, the temporary cap is removed, and pressure shoots the frozen block of lees out through a process called disgorgement. The small, leftover space where the frozen lees were is filled with liqueur d’expedition, which will determine the sweetness level of the wine. This process is called dosage. Don’t be mistaken, though; these processes take years to complete. Champagnes must age for at least 15 months on the lees and, for vintage Champagne, 36 months.
Other sparklers undergo much less complex processes. Take Prosecco, for example. Prosecco is produced via the charmat (tank) method. Basically, the wine is made in pressurized stainless steel tanks; sugars are converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol, then the yeasts are filtered out and the wine is bottled. Not only is this a less expensive way to produce the sparkles, but it’s significantly less time consuming as well. However, the production time does indeed affect the final product. Longer fermentation and aging will produce a wine with finer bubbles, stronger aromas, and better aging potential.
So when do we skip on Champagne? Mimosas and cocktails, for sure. We’d never condone wasting those quality bubbles on sub-par mixed drinks and juicy brunch fizzes. However, Champagne is appropriate not only on special occasions, but also with quality meals and cheesy aperitifs. Champagne makes a killer food pairing, especially with foie gras and Camembert. So pop that cork and savor those creamy, delicious bubbles — because you deserve to treat yourself once in a while.