Walk into a liquor store or a wine shop and you will probably be faced with hundreds, if not thousands of choices for hard liquor, wine, sparkling wine and champagne.
It is definitely not easy to choose a single bottle of wine to drink.
If you do not want to go wrong, the first thing you can do is pick champagne as your choice of drink.
But there are so many different types of champagne! How do you even start on choosing a single bottle from the different types?
Read on to find out all the different types of champagne, explain the jargon surrounding this bubbly and ultimately help you pick the best champagne you should select!
Whatever your preference – dry, creamy, toasty, sweet – you will be able to find champagne that suits your palate perfectly!
Ways to Categorize Champagne
Well, the wine you drink can only be called champagne if the bubbly is made in the northeastern region of France.
There is a common saying, ‘All champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is champagne’. This basically sums it up.
There are several different ways to differentiate the type of champagne. As you have likely observed, all the jargon on the bottle of a label is hard to understand if you are not a seasoned bubbly drinker.
To categorize champagne, you can go according to champagne brands, sweet champagne types, champagne vineyards, champagne styles, ways of aging and classification of champagne.
All the above makes a difference in terms of identifying the type of champagne you would want to buy.
Sweetness Level of Champagne
The first way to differentiate the types of champagne is by its sweetness level. Sugar that is added to champagne is called Dosage. It is added right before the cork is inserted into the bottle.
You may also come across the term brut, this is the French word for dry.
So what is brut champagne? Brut champagne is effectively the level of sweetness in the champagne. There are seven levels altogether – from doux (sweet) to brut nature (bone dry).
The seven types – brut nature, extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry, demi-sec and doux – is usually found on the label of the champagne bottle so if you absolutely love sweet bubbly, go for doux champagne!
The amount of sugar added to the champagne determines the level of brut. As each person has different preferences when it comes to sweetness, producers produce various types of brut levels to meet market demands.
Style of Champagne
There are 3 main champagne grapes that are used to make bubbly – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are others but these 3 primary grapes account for 99.7 percent of champagne grapes.
It is how these grapes are used that give you a hint of what type of style or type of champagne you are about to taste.
If the style of champagne is not stated on the bottle, just assume that the producer has blended all three grapes together in a white sparkling wine.
The three main styles of champagne are:
- Blanc de Blancs
Made with 100% Chardonnay grapes. This is a white style of champagne.
- Blanc de Noirs
This is made with 100% black grapes. A combination of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier usually makes up this bubbly.
Rosé champagne is usually made with a blend of white and red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
Aging of Champagne
This is actually one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing the type of champagne. The fact that how long the bottle of bubbly is aged and how it is aged affects the taste and flavour of the champagne.
Champagne is further categorised into two parts when it comes to aging – vintage champagne and non-vintage champagne.
Vintage champagne is aged for a minimum of three years, though most are aged longer than that. Non-vintage champagne, on the other hand, is aged for a minimum of only 15 months.
When it comes to aging champagne on tirage (on the lees), the aging gives the flavour more toasty, bready and nutty notes, all of which are a sign of a great champagne.
Iconic brands of champagne such as Moët & Chandon will age their bottles on tirage even longer than the required years. This is why they are one of the best brands as the flavour produced is one of the nuttiest sparkling wines in the world!
You may also figure out the type of champagne through the commune name. This signifies where the grapes used to make the champagne are grown.
Across the Champagne region, there are hundreds of communes. However, there are only two types that produce exemplary quality wine grapes which in turn, will make high-quality champagnes.
The first is the Premier Cru vineyards. Out of the hundreds of communes, there are only 42 Premier Cru vineyards.
The second is the Grand Cru vineyards. Even more exclusive, there are only 17 Grand Cru vineyards among the hundreds.
Of course, there are other crus that are just as good but if you spot on the label Premier Cru or Grand Cru, you are pretty much guaranteed a really good bottle of champagne for your celebrations.
The name of the champagne producer is also noted on the bottles’ labels. There are three main types of producers – Maisons, Cooperatives and Vignerons.
This basically means the big guys. The big champagne houses like Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier, Moët and so on are called Maisons.
The grapes they use are from all over the region of Champagne.
The Maisons are further broken down into three categories, which are:
Négociant Manipulant (NM)
This means that the producer buys all or some of the grapes used from other growers. Anything less than 94% estate fruit, by law, must be labeled as Négociant Manipulant.
Marque d’Acheteur (MA)
This also means ‘buyer’s own brand’. Large retailers or restaurants that buy finished wine and sell it under their own private label is probably MA.
Négociant Distributeur (ND)
This refers to a buyer that labels and distributes bubbly that they neither grew nor produced.
Cooperatives refer to the medium guys. They are located in specific villages and make their champagne from multiple different growers.
These are grower producers or are owned by a single family or individual who grows grapes by himself in a specific place and makes his own bubbly.
Further broken down are three terms again:-
Récoltant Manipulant” (RM)
This refers to a grower-producer who uses a minimum of 95% estate fruit. This is the classic grower-producer type though a Maison sometimes uses this classification on a sub-label.
Société de Récoltants (SR)
SR is a group of growers who share resources and market their own brands as a team
Récoltant Coopérateur” (RC)
RC is a grower-producer who has their own brand of champagne but made at a co-op facility.
Where the Grapes are Grown
There are five main growing regions of grapes in Champagne. Where the wine grapes are grown makes a difference as each of the regions have different distinct qualities.
The five main regions are:
Montagne de Reims
Pinot Noir is the grape of choice in this region. Where this is located, on a hill south of Reims that has vineyards facing south or southeast, allows the grapes to achieve optimal ripeness before harvest.
This area contains ten of the 17 Grand Cru vineyards as stated above!
Krug uses grapes from Montagne de Reims and the flavours are bigger and richer than your average grapes
Vallée de la Marne
Only one of the Grand Cru vineyards is found in the Vallée de la Marne. The main focus of this region is the Pinot Meunier grape as the cooler weather allows the grapes to easily ripen. The grapes produced here has more smoky flavours
Côte des Blancs
Primarily planted with Chardonnay, the slope the grapes are planted on faces east and has lots of sun. This region contains the remaining 6 Grand Cru vineyards. Some of the finest Blanc de Blancs are produced from the grapes of this region.
Côte de Sézanne
Similar to Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne produces Chardonnay as well but the grapes are usually blended by larger Maisons.
Côte des Bar
Mostly planted with Pinot Noir, it is somewhat similar to Montagne de Reims. This area however, is relatively new when it comes to producing champagne grapes. The newest however, does not mean that the quality is bad. It just means that you may find hidden gems of great value grapes!
All the factors when it comes to types of champagne can cross over with each other. For example, the Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François, 2006, Brut. It is brut, the grapes are from a blend of 60% Pinot Noir Montagne de Reims and 40% Chardonnay from Côte des Blancs. Just read the label for you to find the types of champagnes and all the information. So there you have it, you should be able to understand the labels on champagne bottles now without getting a panic attack over the champagne jargon. Happy shopping and happy drinking!