Champagne is a single Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. As a general rule, grapes used must be the white Chardonnay, or the black Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
The black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier give the wine its length and backbone. They are predominantly grown in two areas - the Montagne de Reims and the Valée de la Marne. The Montagne de Reims run east-west to the south of Reims, in northern Champagne. They are notable for north-facing chalky slopes that derive heat from the warm winds rising from the valleys below. The River Marne runs west-east through Champagne, south of the Montagne de Reims. The Valée de la Marne contains south-facing chalky slopes. Chardonnay gives the wine its acidity and biscuit flavour. The majority of Chardonnay is grown in a north-south-running strip to the south of Epernay, called the Côte des Blanc, including the villages of Avize, Oger and Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger. These are east-facing vineyards, with terroir similar to the Côte de Beaune. The various terroirs account for the differences in grape characteristics and explain the appropriateness of blending juice from different grape varieties and geographical areas within Champagne, to get the desired style for each Champagne house.
Champagne is typically light in color even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rosé wines are produced throughout France by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time. Rosé Champagne is notable as it is the only wine that allows the production of Rosé by the addition a small amount of red wine during blending. This ensures a predictable and reproducible colour, allowing a constant Rosé colour from year-to-year.
Types of Champagne - Sweetness
The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation and aging varies and will dictate the sweetness level of the types of Champagne.
- Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per liter)
- Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter)
- Brut (less than 15 grams of sugar per liter)
- Extra Sec or Extra Dry (12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter)
- Sec (17 to 35 grams of sugar per liter)
- Demi-Sec (33 to 50 grams of sugar per liter)
- Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter)
The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Champagne was generally much sweeter than what we see today.
Types of Champagne - Vintage and non-vintage
Most of the Champagne produced today is "Non-vintage", meaning that is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. The majority of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10-15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. If the conditions of a particular vintage are favorable, some producers will make a "Vintage" wine that must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage's harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from favorable vintages to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as "vintage" since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.
Types of Champagne -Blanc de noirs
Blanc de noirs is a French term (literally "white of blacks") for a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. It is often encountered in Champagne, where a number of houses have followed the lead of Bollinger's prestige cuvée Vieilles Vignes Françaises in introducing a cuvée made from either Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two (these being the only two black grapes permitted within the Champagne AOC appellation). Although Bollinger's wine is famed for its intense richness and full-bodied nature, this has more to do with the way the grapes are planted and when they are harvested than any intrinsic property of blanc de noirs Champagne, which is often little different from cuvées including a proportion of Chardonnay.
Types of Champagne -Blanc de blancs
Conversely, blanc de blancs means "white of whites" and is used to designate champagnes made only from Chardonnay grapes. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties.
Types of Champagne -Prestige cuvée
A prestige cuvée, or cuvée de prestige, is a proprietary blended wine (usually a Champagne) that is considered to be the top of a producer's range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
The original prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, Champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-range wine produced to the highest standards (and priced accordingly) was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876, but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar.
Champagne is typically light in color even if it is produced with red grapes, because the juice is extracted from the grapes using a gentle process that minimizes the amount of time the juice spends in contact with the skins, which is what gives red wine its colour. Rose wines are produced throughout France by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time.