Champagne galore: A guide to classic bubbly


Geoffroy van Lede of takes a look at the various types of champagne.

Champagne? Which would you choose for a celebration? Do you prefer a ‘sec’? A Blanc de Noirs? A Millésimé? Do you prefer it to come from the Marne Valley? We take you into the magical world of champagne to help you make the best choice!

The traditional champagne we drink is called ‘brut’. It is a blend of years and of grape varieties and has ‘brut ‘sugar content. Let’s see how we arrived at this conclusion and what it means.

How to differentiate the different types? By their sugar content, their sub-region, the grapes used and their category.

The sugar content
In Champagne, eight categories have been established (in decreasing order): Doux, Medium dry, Dry, Extra Dry, Brut, Brut Nature, Extra brut and Non dosé.

The theory is quite simple: the less sugar in it the closer you stay to the basic taste of wine and thus its authenticity and its soil. The classic is Brut champagne. Doux,  semi-dry or dry are quite marginal.

The grapes used
Three grapes are recognized in the Champagne ‘appellation’: Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  So we distinguish the blended champagnes, where three grapes are used from the Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot).

– The Pinot Noir is characterized by its powerful red fruity aromas.

– Pinot Meunier is characterized by its flexibility and fruitiness.

– Chardonnay is characterized by its finesse and floral notes.

The subregions
As in any vineyard, the wines are predominantly influenced by local typicalities of the soil and their grape variety. The Champagne region is divided into four subregions: Mountain and Val de Reims (two Pinots), the Valley of the Marne (Pinot Meunier), Côte des Blancs and Sézannais (Chardonnay) and the Côte des Bar (Pinot Noir).

The categories: Millésimé, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rosé
A champagne Millésimé is a champagne vinified with the juice of a single year. A Blanc de Blancs is champagne made from white grapes (to differentiate it from blended champagnes). A black white champagne is a white champagne made from black grapes (the grape juice is always white). A rosé champagne refers to its color.

Now that you know a bit more about champagne, try different ones to find your own taste. And never forget: each wine or champagne is always produced by a winemaker, and he is the most important element in determining the quality and authenticity of your drink. For classic champagnes trust the brands that blend the best grape varieties and vintage to offer a constant taste throughout the vintages. For authenticity and personality, head to independent winemakers who dedicate themselves entirely to viticulture and winemaking.

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Photo: Phillip Capper