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December 16, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Winter 2019 issue

Inside Champagne?


Words Fabien Etienne

Like any other wine, Champagne is made from the pulp of grapes, sugar and yeast. However, for it to be truly regarded as Champagne, by French law it needs to be made from grapes grown in Champagne, France.

It’s not champagne if it’s not from Champagne.

Champagne’s vineyards can be divided into four main regions. The northernmost is Montagne de Reims, where pinot noir grapes produce robust, generous wines, while the pinot meunier grown in the Marne Valley brings its full fruity flavour to rosé champagnes. South of Épernay, the Côte des Blancs and its chalky soil is the promised land for elegant chardonnay, and further south still, the Côte des Bar and its continental climate produces a lighter pinot noir.

Within these larger areas lies a mosaic of smaller terroir, with each parcel of land producing a wine with its own personality.

How is Champagne made?

The Champagne (or traditional) method is the meticulously defined winemaking process used to make champagne. Champagne is special because the second fermentation – which produces the bubbles – is done in the bottle. This produces the fine “bead” of bubbles characteristic of champagne and helps develop more flavour than the tank fermentation method used on less expensive bubblies. As far back as the 18th century, “La Grande Dame” of Champagne, Madame Clicquot, defied convention and perfected the technique.

What is the Dosage or ‘’Liqueur d’expédition’’?

Dosage is the last step before final corking. This is the addition of a small quantity of ‘liqueur de dosage’ to the wine – also known as the ‘liqueur d’expédition’.

‘‘A quantity of dosage to suit the style of wine’’

Dosage liqueur generally contains 500-750 grams of sugar per litre. The quantity added varies according to the style of Champagne:

  • doux more than 50 grams of sugar per litre

  • demi-sec 32-50 grams of sugar per litre

  • sec 17-32 grams of sugar per litre

  • extra dry 12-17 grams of sugar per litre

  • brut less than 12 grams of sugar per litre

  • extra brut 0-6 grams of sugar per litre

  • “Brut nature”, “pas dosé” ou “dosage zéro” contains zero dosage and less than 3 grams sugar per litre

What is the right Glass to drink Champagne?

Forget the flute. Or even a coupe.

Coupes used to work when we were drinking sweeter styles of Champagne and it prevents a proper development of the mousse and allows the bouquet to escape.

A flute also gives a small surface to air ratio, not ideal for enjoying the bubbles. However, while the glass does keep the bubbles in, it also traps in the aromas, meaning you’ll miss out on the Champagne’s scents and flavours.

The ideal glass for champagne is one with a wider bowl that tapers towards the top, like your standard white wine glass. The combination of a wider bowl and a narrow top captures subtlety in the wine and whisks them towards you, allowing you to fully experience the different layers of aroma present in the wine.

How do you open a bottle of Champagne?


  • Step One: tilt the bottle slightly, always pointing the bottle safely away from yourself or any other person. Then untwist the metal loop to loosen the wire cage. (6 half turn to remove the cage)

  • Step Two: remove the wire cage and foil wrapping, meanwhile keeping a firm grip on the cork

  • Step Three: still holding the cork firmly, gently rotate the bottle (NOT the cork) with your other hand so the cork comes sliding – not popping – out.

When does one drink Champagne?


For many, champagne is brought out on those special occasions; wedding, birth of a baby or a graduation. But I find champagne so unique and complex that it can shine at any time of year and for any occasion whether to celebrate an evening with friends or to see in the New Year.

“In Victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it’’
Napoleon Bonaparte

Fabien Etienne is a professional sommelier and wine consultant based in Malta. He organizes wine training, private master class as well as other bespoke wine services. 

Find out more on

Instagram fab_somm or contact him on 9938 8088 or

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