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A few things you should know about Champagne...


WHAT SORT OF GRAPE VARIETIES ARE THERE IN CHAMPAGNE?

There are only three grape varieties allowed in the region of Champagne: the white Chardonnay and the reds Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne is the typical blended wine: not only does the wine maker assemble these three varieties but he also uses different parcels and vintages to ensure the house's quality and consistency from year to year.


Some of these blends are noteworthy: whereas traditional Champagnes use the three types of grapes, blanc de blancs only uses Chardonnay and blanc de noirs only use black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). The first will produce delicate wines of great finesse with floral aromas, and the latter are full-bodied and more winey with an intense bouquet.

WHAT GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS ARE THERE IN CHAMPAGNE?

It is well known that only wines from Champagne region can be called Champagne, but how much do you know about Champagne's geography and its different terroirs? There are five sub-regions within Champagne.

 

  • The Montagne de Reims (Reims hill) between Epernay and Reims is a plateau on which the Pinot Noir reaches its full potential thanks to its limestone slopes. It is in this region that you will find the majority of Grand Cru classified towns.
  • The Côte des Blancs (Hill of whites), as suggested by its name, is where Chardonnay reigns supreme. At the south of Epernay, between Chouilly and Vertus, the soil is made of limestone recovered by clay and alluvium, which are ideal for this variety.
  • The Marne Valley at the East of Epernay has a few Grands Crus and is principally planted with black varieties, especially Pinot Meunier which handles best its cold winters.
  • The Aube vineyard or Cote des Bars, stretches on 100km (62 miles) at the southeast of Troyes, between the towns of Bar-sur-Aube and Bar-sur-Seine which gave it its name. Its soil is composed of marlstone and therefore best suited for Pinot Noir.
  • The Cote de Sezanne extends the Cote des Blancs at the south making it best suited for Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir is also present.

 

WHAT IS A "CRU"?

Not unlike the regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Champagne has its own classification in terms of "crus" which is called the "Echelle des crus" (scale of growths). Crus (or growths) can be defined as specific vineyards or parcels and are independent of ownership. Their first classification started in 1920.

There is a hierarchy between Crus. Only 17 of Champagne's 320 towns are allowed to have the "Grand Cru" designation, which is the most prestigious. Then comes the "Premier Cru" for 44 towns. All the others are unclassified.

Traditionally, this scale of growths did not only reflect the quality of the grapes, but also the price at which they would be bought. Grand Cru grapes were paid 100% of the given price, Premier Cru were sold between 90% and 99% of the price, and unclassified crus between 80% and 89%.

 

WHAT DOES "BRUT" MEAN?

You will frequently find the "Brut" mention on a bottle of Champagne. This refers to the quantity of sugar in the bottle and therefore its sweetness. The scale from least to most sugary is as follows: "non dose" (not sweetened), extra-brut, brut, extra-dry, demi-sec, sec, and doux. Sugar levels range from naught to 55 grams of sugar per litre. Brut is the most common Champagne and has under 12g/l.

 

 

 

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