The Champagne Making Process
The traditional method by which Champagne is produced, Methode Champenoise, was developed by English scientist and physician Christopher Merret in 1662 and pioneered by Dom Perignon. However, this method was not used in the Champagne region of France, the exclusive home of true champagne, for another 200 years.
Champagne is traditionally made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pino Meunier, and Pinot Noir. After primary fermentation and bottling, Methode Champenoise requires a second alcoholic fermentation. This is induced by adding yeast and sugar to the bottle and takes at least 1 ½ years to develop. Because the bottle is sealed and carbon dioxide can't escape, the sparkle of Champagne is produced, creating a "toasty" flavor. As fermentation continues, yeast cells die and the Champagne continues to age.
The dead yeast cells are removed through a process called riddling. The bottle is placed upside down at a 75° angle and each day, the riddler turns the bottle 1/8 of a turn while keeping it upside down. This forces the dead yeast cells into the neck of the bottle so they can be removed. The neck of the bottle is frozen and the bottle is corked and wired down to secure the high internal pressure of the carbon dioxide.
Champagne ages another three years or more before serving. Conventional wisdom says the smaller the bubbles, the better the Champagne. Smaller bubbles mean more total bubbles to release the flavor.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
If we're going by the book, real Champagne is only produced in its land of origin, the Champagne region of France. Anything else is sparkling wine. In Europe, it has been against the law for any outside vineyard to call its sparkling wine "Champagne" since the Treaty of Madrid of 1891. This was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. Even the use of the term "Methode Champenoise" for Champagne production is legally forbidden in Europe outside of the Champagne region of France.
The United States acknowledges this exclusivity and bans the use of the term "champagne" from all new American-produced sparkling wines. So if you make sparkling wine and privately call it "champagne," don't tell your French friends. Touchy subject.