Aÿ (the two dots over the Y mean it’s pronounced seperately from the A so the name sounds like I. E.)
A town just outside Epernay. Aÿ was the ancient centre of the wine industry when the region was better known for still wine than sparkling.
Today Aÿ is one of only 17 villages with Grand Cru status and boasts one of the largest south facing vineyard slopes in Champagne. Mainly planted with Pinot Noir, Aÿ produces big full flavoured wines much sought after to make powerful champagnes.
Aÿ’s other claim to fame is as an answer to crossword puzzles in France: “ village in Champagne with two letters in the name”.
Another of the Grand Cru Villages. Ambonnay is in a slight dip where the temperature can be a degree or two higher than elsewhere. This produces slightly riper grapes with full flavour, rather like Aÿ.
Yet another Grand Cru village.
Avize is in the Côte des Blancs where Chardonnay reigns supreme and is home to some of the finest Blanc de Blancs champagnes: De Sousa, Vazart-Coquart, Agrapart and others
Taking note of the village where a champagne comes from sometimes gives a clue as to the style of champagne, particularly with the smaller growers who tend to source grapes in and around their home village.
The process of combining together many still wines from different grapes, different villages and different years to make a blend that is superior to each individual wine.
This is one of the key elements that distinguishes champagne from some other wines.
Assemblage takes place in the spring of each year and the resulting blend is put into bottles for the second fermentation and ageing.
Thanks to assemblage a champagne may contain dozens of different wines, occasionally more than 100, in the blend. Assemblage requires great skill and experience.
A Grand Cru village, but to be frank not one that you’d put top of your list of places to visit. The vineyards may be top notch, but the problem is that the village is split by the main Reims -Châlons road and there’s lots of traffic on it
Bouzy on the other hand is well worth a visit. Apart from the wonderful name, Bouzy has some of the best vineyards in Champagne, particularly the top half of the wide slope behind the village – an area known as derrière le château, or behind the water tower. It is also a Grand Cru village
Stirring the still wine in the vat or barrel after the first fermentation.
This is traditionally done with a wooden stick (a bâton) in order to agitate the dead yeast sediment in the wine thereby promoting the development of richer aromas and flavours in the wine.
Bidule( literally the Thingamejig/thingamebob)
The little plastic stopper that fits inside the metal cap used to seal the bottles whilst they age in the cellars. They’re cheap, are not made of cork so there’s no risk of the champagne becoming corked and they let just the right amount of air into the bottle so the wine can age properly.
The bud that comes out on a vine in Spring
The metal crown cap that, together with the bidule (see above), seals the bottle during the second fermentation and ageing in the cellars.
The practice of adding sugar to pressed grape juice before fermenting it into wine. This is done in years when the nautral sugar content in the grapes is low and it ensures that the level of alcohol in the wine is up to the required level.
La Cuvée is the name given to the first juice that comes from the press. La Cuvée contains a higher level of sugar and acid that the juice that runs off later in the pressing process and since these are two vital ingredients in making a good champagne, La Cuvée is the most sought after juice.
La Cuvée also contains less of the astringent elements that tend to find their way into juice that comes from the final stages of pressing when the stalks, pips and skin of the grapes come under the ‘squeeze’.
A word used in the quality ranking system amongst Champagne villages and their vineyards.
At the top of the quality tree are 17 Grand Cru villages (ranked as 100% quality), next in the pecking order are 41 Premier Cru villages (90-99%) followed by all the other villages (ranked between 80-89%) which are given the designation Cru.
Formely known as Châlons-sur-Marne this largish town some 30 miles south of Reims is the administrative capital of the region. These days there is only one champagne house that is still based in the town: Champagne Joseph Perrier
The secret weapon of the Champagne region.
Across the entire region there’s a thick layer of chalk under the thin layer of top soil. The chalk promotes better drainage which the vines appreciate and it retains heat from the sun that allows the grapes to ripen more than they would do otherwise.
Comité Champagne (formerly known as the CIVC)
The governing body of the champagne industry that sets and monitors the rules – and there are an awful lot of them.
Although the Comité Champagne is a bureaucracy and open to criticism because of that, they perform an essential role in maintaining the stability of the champagne market and in squaring the circle between the various players: grape growers, small champagne producers, cooperatives and large maisons, (and indeed consumers) whose interests can sometimes be directly opposed to one another.
A grouping of grape growers and/or small champagne makers who pool their resources in order to have greater success.
Members of a cooperative usually sell their grapes to the coop and then either
Let the coop press the grapes to turn the juice into champagne which is marketed under the coop’s own brand name (Champagne de St. Gall being one such)
Take back the pressed juice and make it into champagne under the individual grower’s brand name.
Famous and very expensive champagne created in 1876 by the house of Louis Roederer making Cristal the first of the so-called Cuvées de Prestige.
Cristal was made at the insistence of Tsar Alexandre II of Russia and put in a clear bottle because the Tsar insisted that his personal champagne be visibly different from all the others.
In those days it was a very sweet champagne, not at all like modern day Cristal
Filtering off the sediment ( bits of leaf, stalk, dirt etc ) from the grape juice shortly after pressing so that the remaining juice is clear before it starts its fermentation
Village in Champagne. Not amongst the topmost villages in terms of the quality of its grapes, but a memorable name to go alongside that of its neighbour Bouzy.
Before a bottle of champagne is sold the yeast sediment that has been deposited in bottle during the second fermentation must be removed – this process is called dégorgement.
These days the process is done by machine. The neck of the bottle, where the sediment has collected during the remuage, is plunged into a freezing liquid causing an ice cube to form which in turn traps the sediment inside it. Then the cap is removed from the bottle and the pressure inside ejects the ice cube taking the sediment with it.
The traditional method, called dégorgement à la volée, is to do the dégorgement by hand without an ice cube being involved. This is possible because there’s a small bubble of air at the base of the bottle.
Holding the bottle neck-down the cellar worker tilts the bottle upwards meaning that the air bubble travels up the inside of the bottle. Just at the precise moment that the air bubble reaches the neck of the bottle the worker flicks off the cap and the sediment is ejected as the air bubble escapes from the bottle.
It’s spectacular, but messy and wasteful because inevitably some wine is lost in the process. You can see how it's done on this video
Dom Pérignon 1639 - 1715
Not the inventor of champagne as is often, mistakenly, thought, but certainly the man who laid the foundations for the improvements in quality and for the later fame of champagne.
Dom Pérignon was a monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers where he was in charge of the finances of the abbey - making and selling wine played a large part in that.
Dom Pérignon introduced the practice of blending grapes from different areas to create a better champagne, started to use corks not wooden stoppers, and introduced strong glass bottles to contain the fizzy wine.
The champagne bearing his name is made by Moët & Chandon.
The first Dom Pérignon to be sold was the vintage 1921 sold in 1935 to 150 special clients of Moët’s U.K. importer Simon Bros.
Dosage is the addition of a small amount of liquid sugar at the very end of the champagne making process so as to adjust the level of sweetness.
This is done because all the sugar in the champagne has been used up during the fermentation and turned into alcohol, so at this stage the champage is bone dry, so dry in fact that most people wouldn’t appreciate it, hence the need to add a little sweetner.
The more sugar you add ( it’s measured in grams of sugar per litre of champagne or g/l), the sweeter the result. There are many categories of sweetness and you can see these in the chart.
Knowing the dosage is one of the 4 key things you need to know before you buy a bottle of champagne
Echelle des Crus
This means the quality scale and it refer to the systems of ranking villages according to the quality of the grapes grown there.
There are some 323 villages in Champagne. Of these 17 are regarded as Grand Cru – ranked as 100% in terms of quality.
42 villages are classed as Premier Cru, between 90% and 99% in quality
All other villages are rated as between 80% and 89% and are designated as Cru
You’ll usually see the words Grand Cru or Premier Cru on the champagne label if the grapes used in that particular champagne are of the relevant quality. If you find neither of these words, you can assume that the quality ranking is plain Cru, although there are a number of exceptions to this generalisation.
One of the many tasks that have to be carried out in the vineyards every year. Ecimage involves trimming off the topmost shoots and leaves of the vine and usually starts in June when the vines are growing quickly. By trimming off excess growth écimage helps in directing the sap towards the grapes where it is most needed and helps to ease the passage of the tractors that will need to pass up and down the rows in the summer months to perfom our vineyard tasks. This short video will show you what it's all about.
The removal of excess leaves just before the harvest so that the pickers can more easily see the bunches and therefore pick more quickly.
The process is usually done by a tractor fitted with an effeuilleuse – a tool that uses high pressure compressed air to blast the leaves off the vines.
See an effeuilleuse in action on this video
Growing grass between the rows of vines to loosen the soil and encourage microbial life in the soil
Learn more about enherbement and other vineyard jobs in this short video.
Home to several famous brands such as Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger and Perrier Jouët not to mention dozens, perhaps hundreds of smaller houses.
There’s quite a bit of rivalry between Epernay and it’s bigger neighbour Reims.
Reims boasts that is is The Capital of La Champagne ( La Champagne meaning the region of the same name). Epernay struck back by calling itself the Capital of Le Champagne (Le champagne means the wine made in the Champagne region).
There are at least two, and usually three, fermentations in the champagne making process
1 ) Alcoholic fermentation
The reaction of yeast on the grape skins with the sugar in the grape juice, as it runs off the press, produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas
This turns the grape juice into still wine whilst the gas escapes into the air.
2) Malolactic fermentation
This occurs after the 1st fermentation when certain bacteria in the still wine break down the harsh malic acid and turn it into the milder lactic acid. It is generally thought that the ‘Malo’ makes a champagne smoother and more complex although some champagne houses, notably Lanson, deliberately choose not to carry out malolactic fermentation in order to produce a distinctive, more racy, style of their own.
3 ) Second Fermentation
In fact this is usually the 3rd fermentation, but it’s rarely referred to as such.
When the still wine is transferrd into bottles, another measure of sugar and of yeast is added before the bottle is sealed. The same chemical reaction as happened in the 1st fermentation, now takes place inside the bottle. The alcoholic strength of the wine increases and the CO2 gas, because it cannot escape from the sealed bottle, dissolves in the wine and creates the distinctive champagne bubbles.
The last part of the wine tasting process.
After you have swallowed a sip of wine does the taste linger strongly in your mouth ?
If it does the wine is said to have a long’ finish and this is generally considered to be the mark of a well-made wine. The reverse is also true. If the taste disappears as soon as you swallow, that’s not a good sign.
Gelées de Printemps
The Spring frosts that can be so dangerous to the vines and more particularly to the tiny buds just beginning to appear. No buds means no grapes, so the entire year’s crop is affected.
Since 1875 there have been 55 years in which 1% or more of the crop has been destroyed by Spring frost. Not too bad you might think, but there have been 6 years in that period when more than 40% of the entire crop was wiped out. That’s very bad news for a vigneron or any business person for that matter.
In the late 1800s a pest called Phylloxera invaded and wiped out the majority of the world’s vines. It did this by attacking the roots of the vine plant and it spread very rapidly.
The only successful way of combatting the virulent bug was to take a root stock from America – this was where Phylloxera originated and American root stocks were resistant to it - and graft onto the root, cuttings from other grapes varieties, including the native French ones hit by Phylloxera.
This practice continues to this day and has become an art in itself and a fundamental part of viticulture the world over.
Here’s a new graft coated in wax to keep it free of infection in the first crucial weeks
A bit of a Faux Ami (False Friend) this - the word looks familiar so you think you know what it means. In fact La Grappe doesn’t mean a grape, but a whole bunch of grapes.
A single grape is une baie.
Collecting from the vines the remaining grapes that were either unripe or unnoticed when the main harvest took place. (Not always allowed if the maximum pemitted yield has already been picked)
Hail - The scourge of the vineyards in summer. Hail can destroy great swathes of vines with the result that the entire crp can be lost in some localised areas
Not the birthplace of Dom Pérignon but site of the abbey where he lived and worked for many years and where he is buried.
One of the prettiest villages in Champagne andf well-known for the wrought-iron signs hanging above many of the doors.
French colloquial word for stainless steel and, in Champagne, for the stainless steel vats used to store wine (as opposed to more traditional enamel, or wooden vessels).
Inox is easier to keep clean and the inox vats can be temperature controlled to ensure that conditions are perfect for the fermentation and storage of wines.
Most of the big houses converted totally to inox from the 1960s onwards.
Traditionalists say that stainless steel takes away the soul of the wine rendering it rigid, cool and inflexible with none of the warmth and depth of enamel, or oak barrels.
The debate will no doubt run on and on
Nothing to do with work, or childbirth. In fact Labour refers to ploughing along the base of the vines to aerate the soil and encourage the vine roots to penetrate deeper underground.
The slat of wood used to stabilise plies of bottles ageing in the cellar. A latte is usually inserted between every fourth layer of bottles (see also Sur Latte)
Lees (Lies in French)
The all important yeast sediment left inside the bottle after the second fermentation. The lees are dead yeast cells which slowly decay and release the amino-acids, enzymes and other nutrients which allow the tastes and aromas of the champagne to develop.
A small area of vineyard with a specific name as can be seen in the picture.
We can easily understand the meaning of some names: Derrière l’Allée ( Behind the lane); others seem obvious too: Les Côtes au Vent ( Windy hillside) or La Côte Aux Renards ( Fox Hill). The meaning of other names , if there ever was one, is lost in history for example: La Louvière, Les Bartelles and many more.
A few champagne makers produce a champagne using only grapes from one single lieu-dit ; these champagnes give a vivid expression of the subtle differences that the soil can bring to the wine.
Liqueur (de tirage or d'expédition)
Liqueur is the name given to the liquid added either at the moment of bottling (liqueur de tirage) or just after dégorgement (liqueur d'expédition)
The former is a mixture of yeast and sugar designed to provoke the second alcoholic fermentation inside the bottle. The second is a mixture of wine and sugar a) to replace the small volume lost during dégorgement and b) to adjust the sweetness of the champagne before it is sold.
A single plot of vines. There may be several parcelles in one lieu-dit.
There are some 270,000 parcelles in the Champagne AOC owned by approximately 20,000 vignerons. With so many tiny, individual plots, the landscape sometimes looks like an immense patch-work quilt of greenery.
Récoltant Manipulant (RM)
This one of the categories of champagne maker.
The term literally means 'Harvester and Handler' and it refers to someone that grows grapes in their own vineyard and uses the grapes to produce thir own champagne. In practice it means the smaller champagne makers and the champagnes they make which are often called Grower Champagnes.
The RM is not allowed to buy, from third parties, more than 5% of the grapes he or she uses to make their champagne, unlike an NM (see definition).
You'll find the two letters in small text somewhere on the champagne label together with a unique registration number allocated to each champagne maker.
Known as Riddling in English, this is the process of gently twisting and raising each bottle so as to get the yeast sediment resting on the underside of the bottle to slide down to the neck. Remuage takes between one to three weeks, depending on whether it is done manually, or by machine. Once remuage is complete the bottles are ready to de disgorged.
Name given to bottles stacked in the cellar to age. The name refers to the wooden slats inserted between rows of bottles to stabilise the pile. During this ageing period Champagne can be bought by one champagne maker from another with the buyer finishing off the production process and selling the champagne under his own brand name, even though he did not start the process. Champagne bought in this way is called Vin sur latte.
Name given to bottles stored vertically with the neck downwards. Putting bottles in this position in the cellars means that the surface area of lees in contact with the wine is reduced. This slows the ageing process and allows champagne to be kept for extremely long periods.
Taille means Pruning.
As with just about everything else in Champagne, there are strict rules about how you must prune your vines, with a designated procedure for each different grape variety.
In theory you can start pruning straight after the harvest, but people rarely do. Some vignerons start pruning in November and others wait until March the following year
This is the word used for Bottling.
Before being put into bottles a carefully measured quantity of 'liqueur' and of a liquid yeast solution are added to the still wine to ensure that the second alcoholic fermentation starts inside the bottle and creates the bubbles.
Tirage can't take place before 1st January of the year following the harvest and each champagne maker will choose his or her own dates according to whne they feel the wine is ready.