There are a number of steps involved in crafting Champagne wines, and one of the most important of these is that of assemblage, or blending.
Assemblage can be described as the synthesis of the steps prior, and the expression of the final product. Assemblage involves the blending of varying base wines to formulate a further wine which is superior in quality than any of its components. The new wine, which is referred to as cuvée, is ideally suited to creating a sparkle within the bottle.
To better understand the final champagne product, it’s a necessity to make an examination of the natural factors involved, together with the artistry and skills that are utilized by those who comprehend the mastering of the elements, which ultimately conjures up a unique personality and style.
Among the natural elements is the terroir, or soil, of the Champagne, the grape varieties, and the climate. In terms of the human touch, we have the creativity, the experience, and the memory. By encompassing vines that are growing at various aspects on the slopes, the Champagne’s terroir becomes diverse. And as a result, the wines that are born display differing structures and aromas, which are characteristic of individual growing sites.
The sites are organized in accordance to geographic areas, and they are also referred to by the different crus they belong to: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Ambonnay, Verzy, Suzanne, Cramant, and more.
In all, there are some 312 crus, and each encompasses plots within the vineyards of a mosaic nature, known as galipes. These are divided up between 19,000 owners.
At La Champagne’s northerly latitude, there’s a persistent clash between continental and oceanic climates. And this is entirely unique to France. Add everything together, and you have the explanation of Champagnes’ unique freshness and overall characteristics.
As a consequence, the variations that are brought about through interactions between climate and landscape are somewhat magnified. They contribute to each vineyard site’s individuality. Moreover, over the stretch of a 12-month period, climatic conditions vary tremendously. As a result of this, the grapes’ characteristics and also that of the wines, are greatly impacted by the potential for frosts in winter and in spring, the heat, rain, and the amount of sunshine.
Champagne makers are known to craft dozens of wines in the pursuit of the “perfect” combination. There are many assemblages and yet, each of them is unique.
Year upon year, the objective of the artist is to craft a particular wine that perpetuates or reflects a vision of its predecessor. This creates something referred to a house style, which possesses its very own diverse expression, be that a Rosé, a classic Cuvée, a Prestige Cuvée, or a Blanc de Blancs.
There are three qualities that a Champagne artist requires in order to be successful:
- An excellent memory for taste.
- A thorough knowledge of their vineyards, which entails understanding the characteristics of the grapes that hail from individual sites and how they compliment one another.
- A lengthy experience that is achieved over several generations.
With one tasting after another from November through March, the aromas, color, balance, structure, and the evolution of each wine is recorded. To begin with, the previous harvest’s wines are tasted. Next, the reserve wines.
Copious notes are taken to depict each stage of the Champagne’s life – the development, beyond second fermentation, and also beyond aging in the cellar. The process of assemblage may take anything between a few days to several weeks. Tests are conducted, opinions sought, and then the blending occurs.
The majority of cuvées involve several grape varieties, several crus, and several vintages. In better years, many producers will opt to focus on the production of a single vintage alone. If this is the case, there are no reserve wines that are introduced within the assemblage.
Yet other producers will instead opt for a Blanc de Noirs or Blanc de Blanes Champagne. The former is manufactured exclusively from black Pinots, while the latter from Chardonnay grapes.
Champagne makers have progressed to making assemblage into a form of art, which can be compared to the creation of a fine perfume or perhaps, even to the conducting of an orchestra.
And with this, they have managed to transform the fickle nature of the region of Champagne, with its chalky soils and austere climate, into a magical gift.
Enjoy one of the very finest: André Champagne.