Overview of Wine in Champagne
Montagne de Reims: mainly Pinot Noir
Côte des Blancs: south from Epernay, mostly Chardonnay, best vineyards are on the east
Vallée de la Marne: mainly Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, some Chardonnay
Cote de Bar: furthest south, warmest climate; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate.
Most grapes are planted in Marne, but the most Premier and Grand Cru sites are in
Cote des Blancs and Montagne de Reims based on vineyard slope and soil. The 17 Grand Cru sites in Champagne are Ambonnay, Avize, Äy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly Champagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (where Clos du Mesnil is located), Oger, Oiry, Puisieulex, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, Verzenay, and Verzy.
Pinot Noir: 38%; adds depth of fruit and longevity of the wine
Chardonnay: 32%; adds lightness in flavor and texture
Pinot Meunier: 30%; easy to grow and less prone to frost damage. Great for blending.
(all grapes are pressed quickly to give white juice, except for rosés)
The terroir of Champagne is extremely unique. The steep slopes are very important, as is the dual climate of both oceanic and continental weather influences. The most characteristic element of the terroir is the soil. The land lies on deep beds of chalk from the delicate shell fragments of marine micro-organisms. There are also varying levels of limestone and clay. This soil provides good drainage and can impart a mineral flavor. The highest densities of chalk in the soils are in the Montagne des Reims and Cotes des Blancs.
Primary Rules Set by the AOC
Just three authorized grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Short pruned vines (Cordon de Royat, Chablis and Guyot pruning are allowed)
Capped grape yields per hectare
Low yield requirements
Dedicated Champagne winemaking and storage premises
Secondary fermentation in the bottle, and minimum periods of maturation on lees: 15 months for non-vintage Champagne and three years for vintage Champagne.
A natural winemaking process known as the ‘Méthode Champenoise’ (see below for details)
Reading the Label
When reading any wine label, you will find the Appellation and Producer or Company name; these are commonly the most prominent words on the label. You may also see a sub appellation or more specific address of the winery. If it is not a Grower Champagne, that would be the address of the Champagne House, not the location of the source of the grapes.
Something unique to Champagne bottles is the registration and code number issued by the CIVC, preceded by two initials that indicate the category of producer. The most common are NM (Houses) and RM (Growers):
NM: Négociant manipulant. Individual or company who buys grapes, grape must or wine to make Champagne on their own premises and market it under their own label. All of the big Champagne Houses belong in this category.
RM: Récoltant manipulant. Grower who makes and markets own-label Champagne, from grapes exclusively sourced from their own vineyards and processed on their own premises.
RC: Récoltant-coopérateur. Co-op grower who markets co-op-produced Champagne under their own label
CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Wine co-op that markets Champagne made on co-op premises from members grapes.
MA: Marque d’acheteur. Brand of Champagne owned by a third party who is not the producer, for instance supermarket own-brand Champagne (finished Champagne sourced from various producers then sold under the supermarket’s own label).
Wine Style Indicators
Blanc des Blancs indicates that the wine is 100% Chardonnay and most likely quite austere in body and flavor. Blanc des Noirs is made with all black grapes (Pinot Noir and/or Meunier) and likely has more fullness in character.
Extra brut or Brut nature or Non dosé: bone dry (no added dosage/sugar)
Demi-sec: medium sweet
Doux: relatively sweet
In Champagne, all wine must be made in Method Champenoise. Wines not made in Champagne and sold in Europe that also use this method call it Method Tranditionelle on the label. Wines produced in Europe, but sold outside of Europe or produced and sold outside of Europe may include Method Champenoise on the label. Both reference the same type of winemaking.
Also check out our HISTORY OF CHAMPAGNE!
Here’s a great glossary of terms to help understand Champagne from ChampagneGuide.net