Why is there no red Champagne – ask Decanter

Why is there no red Champagne when two out of the three Champagne grapes are black? Peter Liem gives Decanter an answer.

Champagne © Andy Roberts/Getty
Image: Champagne © Andy Roberts/Getty

John Butterwick, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire asks: Can you explain why, when two of the three Champagne grapes are black, there is no red Champagne?

Peter Liem, for Decanter, replies: The fact that there is no red Champagne is probably due to historical tastes. In the late-17th and early-18th centuries, when sparkling wines first began to be produced in the Champagne region, the best wines were valued not for their power but for their brilliance, limpidity, subtlety and finesse. Great effort was made to produce wines of increasing delicacy and refinement. Dom Pérignon, for example, almost certainly did not invent sparkling Champagne, but one of his notable achievements was perfecting the production of white wine from black grapes, making a more elegant wine.

When sparkling Champagne began to be produced in earnest, it was definitely a white wine. Wine made from white grapes in cool areas would have a greater tendency to sparkle, and from a practical standpoint, a light-bodied, low-alcohol wine would produce a sparkle gentle enough that it would break fewer bottles. Sparkling Champagne became fashionable for its joyous and refreshing character, and in some circles it was regarded as healthier and more digestible than red wine, which was accused of causing gout. Probably, too, it was a way for the Champenois
to easily differentiate their wines from those of Burgundy, its great rival in the wine world.

Today, the idea prevails that Champagne should be an elegant, lively and relatively delicate wine
– red wine would be unsuitable as a base due to its body, alcohol and tannin. Some rosé Champagnes, such as those by Larmandier- Bernier, Leclerc- Briant or Piper-Heidsieck, have so much colour that they almost appear red, but these are extreme examples, and even then, these producers seek to extract colour with as little tannin as possible.

Peter Liem is publisher of ChampagneGuide.net.

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