The wine most associated with celebration and luxury in the world, Champagne is produced, quite aptly, less than 100 km from the suburbs of Paris. Less well-known is the fact that, at 500 kms further north than Ontario's Niagara region, Champagne is one of the northernmost wine regions in the world. It is only a confluence of perfect factors that allow quality wine to be produced here at all, a combination of soils, aspect, proximity to the English Channel and the style of wine being made. Vines stretch west along the Marne valley and to the south in the Aube, but the heart of the region (and most of the Grand Cru vineyards) rests side by side on La Montagne de Reims and, just south, the Côte des Blancs near Epernay. The chalk soil found here is the result of an ancient seabed accumulation of millions of years of shellfish deposits reaching in some places depths of 300 metres. The high lime content in the chalk gives the requisite acidity needed to make exceptional sparkling wines. The three main grapes used here are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a distant, somewhat rustic cousin of Pinot known as Pinot Meunier. The majority of Champagne produced is non-vintage Brut, a blend both of grapes and vintages made to exacting standards to enable a 'house style' year in and year out. Generally, NV Brut is the house's least expensive wine but it accounts for nearly 80% of total production. Other Champagne styles are Blanc des Blancs, Blanc des Noirs, Rosé, Vintage Brut and, from top houses, a Cuvée de Prestige (like Roederer's Cristal, for example).
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