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Sulfite-free champagne, what is it?

Champagne in brief

First a few words about champagne . We like to taste it on special occasions : a wedding to celebrate, a birthday to celebrate, good news to announce.

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You know it: champagne comes from the Champagne region in France and it is a so- called sparkling wine . Champagne is an AOC , meaning that only sparkling wines from the Champagne region can bear the name of champagne.

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Here are the four regions surrounding the Champagne appellation :

Mountain of Reims

The Montagne de Reims is a large plateau located between the city of Reims and Epernay which is covered with forest. The vine is planted on the slopes which are formed there. The soils are chalky with debris from erosion . There are a lot of exposed hills in the north. There is a climatic phenomenon in this region: cold air descends on the plain in the evening and hot air forms during the day and descends on the vines.

Marne Valley

The Marne Valley vineyards how near Tours-sur-Marne with Epernay on the other side. It develops towards Paris on both banks of the rivers but it develops especially on the right bank.

White Coast

The Côte des Blancs is located south of Epernay. The name Côte des Blancs comes from the fact that it is a region of blanc de blanc champagnes . This type of champagne is only produced from the Chardonnay grape variety. This variety covers more than 95% of the surface of the vines in this region. The Chardonnay grape variety is an early variety, it is then sensitive to spring frosts. In this region, the vines are sheltered from the winds that dominate this region.

Bar coast

The Côte des Bars vineyard is located in the south of the region. There, there are Jurassic hills with green valleys. The weather conditions mean that this grape variety produces rather light wines that many winegrowers are looking for to find freshness in their cuvées.

Also discover our crémant d'Alsace .

Now that you know everything about Champagne, let's see the different grape varieties associated with it.

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Champagne grape varieties

Champagne is made primarily from three grape varieties , but there are also four other grape varieties that can be used.

  • The Miller : it is a black grape whose pulp is colorless. It occupies 31% of the vineyards of Champagne, particularly on clay soils. The wine produced from Meunier has fruity notes. These are supple, fast-evolving wines that bring roundness to the blend.
  • Chardonnay: it is a white grape variety found particularly in the Côtes des Blancs in Marne. It occupies approximately 30% of the Champagne region. Wine produced from Chardonnay is characterized by delicate citrus, mineral or floral notes . Chardonnay wines are ideal for aging because they evolve slowly over time.
  • Pinot Noir: it is a black grape variety whose pulp is colorless and the juice extracted is white. It is one of the main grape varieties used. It occupies 38% of the vineyard land. The limestone soils are conducive to its cultivation. Pinot noir wines are characterized by notes of red fruits . When blended, it brings power and body.
The four other grape varieties share 1% of the vineyard land.
  • Pinot blanc: it is also a white grape variety which gives the wine aromas of citrus fruits and flowers .
  • Pinot Gris : it is a grape variety mutated from black, it gives power to the smell of wine with a citrus note .
  • Arbane : it is a white grape variety which gives the wine an aroma of fruit .
  • Petit Meslier: it is a small-grained grape variety. It gives a smoky smell and a citrus note in the mouth.

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The making of champagne

To make champagne, you have to go through several stages, namely:

STEP 1: the harvest
This is the grape harvest, it usually takes place from September to October. The harvest is done manually to keep the grapes intact.

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STEP 2: pressing and settling
The grapes are first pressed to extract the juice and then the suspended solids present in the must are eliminated. This then allows a clarification of the must.

STEP 3: alcoholic/malolactic fermentation
The sugar present in the must, under the action of yeasts, is transformed into alcohol. This process is accompanied by the release of carbon dioxide.
Malolactic fermentation is a second fermentation which consists, using selected bacteria, in transforming malic acid into lactic acid. This is a step that consists of softening acidic wines.

STEP 4: clarification
It is the filtration of the wine obtained after fermentation. The wine is stripped of its solid particles and its yeasts.

STEP 5: assembly
This is a step that makes the difference between producers. It consists of marrying wines from different vintages and grape varieties. The proportions adopted are specific to each producer.

STEP 6: stabilization and pulling
Stabilization consists of stabilizing the wine before drawing. The drawing stage consists of bottling the wine. A liqueur detirage containing yeasts and sugar is added to it, and the bottles are capped.

STEP 7: foaming and maturation
Once the capping of the bottles is finished, the bottles are placed upside down in the cellars for a period of 8 to 15 months or even more for a second fermentation. Maturation begins once the yeasts die.

STEP 8: disgorging and dosage
Disgorging is the expulsion of deposits. Then comes the dosage which is the addition of a mixture of sugar and wine to complete the level. This is the step that will determine whether the champagne will be dry, semi-dry, brut, sweet, etc.

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    In the manufacture of champagne, sulfur has four roles :

    • The conversation ;
    • disinfection;
    • Stabilization;
    • Clarification.

    More and more natural, organic or biodynamic wines are emerging: this is also taking place among champagnes.

    Some producers have scaled back the use of sulfur in the process. Others have even banned sulfur. As a result, on the bottles, we can observe different mentions.

    Thomas Barbichon has chosen to produce his Champagne organically and even biodynamically. Since 2010 the Robert Barbichon estate has been organic and since 2012 biodynamic.

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    The statement "contains sulfites" and the statement "sulfite-free"

    Today, the trend is turning towards the production of more natural and healthier wines . The mention "without sulphites" means " without added sulphites ". That is to say that during the entire process of making the drink, no sulfur was added.

    The European provision of 2005 obliges to put on the label of the bottles the mention “contains sulphites”. This statement should be specified when the sulfur level in champagne bottles exceeds 10 mg/l. Even a sulfite-free champagne can bear this mention.

    How is it then that a sulphite-free champagne can contain sulphur?

    The sulfur in champagne labeled sulfite-free comes from grapes . Remember that sulfur is a natural mineral present in the soil, its combustion produces sulfur dioxide. The gas dissolves easily in water.

    When mixed with water, it gives sulfite. So without bringing sulfur for the treatment of the grape, the grape can contain a natural quantity of sulfur . This quantity varies from one region to another. Even once transformed, the sulfite is still present.

    In short, to choose a champagne, it is necessary to know how to differentiate the nuances of the mentions placed on the labels of the bottles, and to know the labels.

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