Rob Bumsted, with Remy Cointreau USA, recently did a comparison tasting with Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck Champagnes. Both Champagne houses are based in Reims, a town located about 90 miles eas of Paris, in Champagne, France. Champagne is the region where all "Champagne" sparkling wine comes from, and has about 85,000 acres of vines.
Champagne is known world wide for its sparkling wine. You might imagine that Champange is a lush, sunny area with rich soil and temperate weather. Quite the opposite! Champagne is dark, rainy, with very difficult and cold weather. The soil is chalky - a mixture of sand, gravel and limestone. These conditions all cause great stress to the vines - and the vines respond by pouring their energy into their grapes. Their #1 concern is creating a perfect "seed packet" to ensure their line lives on. As Rob explained, "it is very, very, very cold - those vines are stressed to the max."
This area was occupied by the Romans 2,000 years ago, and the Romans dug many chalk cellars. These are up to 20m underground - and provide perfect ageing areas for the Champagne wineries. For some reason, the Champagnes aged down in these cellars actually taste differently than wines aged up on the surface!
Over the years, the Champagne region then chose to take their grape crops - comprised of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meneiur grapes - and make one of the most difficult types of wine with it. Instead of just crushing, fermenting and bottling the wine, they chose to perform the dual fermentation, multi-year process which is Champagne. The process is so difficult that 90% of the Champagne produced here is non-vintage - blended wines across multiple years. Only 10% of production is so high quality that it can be bottled from that one year alone and labelled as such.
Rob explained that this long, difficult vineyard work and wine creation was what accounted for the relatively high prices charged by Champagne houses. "It's a long, long, long process a lot of capital expenditure," he explained. He went on to talk about the relationships between the winemakers and grape growers. "For the most part, the producers don't own the vineyard at all," he explained. This allowed an open market to exist for grape growing, with the best grapes commanding the best prices, no matter which area they came from.
The current top Champagnes houses are called the "Grand Marque". 24 members belong to this. In general, wineries are graded from 80% to 100%. Vintages are too. The quantity of Champagne brought into the US breaks out as follows:
Moet & Chandon - 48%
Veuve Cliquot - 28%
Perrier Jouet - 5%
Taittinger - 4%
Pommerey - 4%
Mumm - 4%
Piper-Heidsieck - 4%
Nicholas Fueillette - 4%
Roderer - 3%
Laurent Perrier - 2%
Now compare those numbers with the actual total count of 90+ ratings in the Wine Spectator since that magazine began -
Krug - 71
Piper-Heisdieck - 65
Moet & Chandon - 42
Bollinger - 35
Veuve Cliquot - 30
laurent Perrier - 27
Roderer - 26
Taittinger - 25
Perrier Jouet - 22
That being said, it was time to learn more about Champagne and to taste a few bubblies!
How Champagne is Made
Champagne Reviews and Tasting Notes
All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.