Popping champagne makes any event feel festive. The precious bubble liquid immerses our taste buds in flavors with a luxurious taste. If tasting it is easy, choosing it is a little less so.
You must first familiarize yourself with all the specific terms that relate to this very particular wine: assemblage, White of Whites, grape variety… Without forgetting mentions such as “controlled origin”, “RM” Récoltant Manipulatant or “NM” Négociant Manipulatant… Among this constellation of terms, the grape variety is essential to know. For what ? Because it allows you to understand how wine is made. This helps you choose the champagne that suits you best from all the variety offered.
What is the grape variety? Why is it important ? What are the main Champagne grape varieties? Are there other grape varieties in champagne? Which ?
- What is a varietal ?
- What are the main Champagne grape varieties?
- What are the other grape varieties in champagne?
What is a varietal ?
First of all, the grape variety. It simply corresponds to the type of grape used to make the wine, the type of plant. The grape varieties are selected according to the terroir and climate. Each variety of grape variety differs in terms of foliage and grains. The grains of the different grape varieties will have their own sizes, colors and of course tastes.
Champagne is a blended wine. It comes from the marriage of different wines to obtain a vintage whose composition goes beyond the simple juxtaposition of the base wines. The assembly may concern:
- different years
- different villages
- different grape varieties
Several grape varieties can therefore be found in the composition of a champagne, each bringing specific aromatic notes.
What are the main Champagne grape varieties?
Three grape varieties are largely in the majority in Champagne. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. They alone represent more than 99% of the grape varieties in Champagne.
The first is a white grape variety, that is to say it is made up of white grapes, the other two are black grape varieties, that is to say made up of black grapes.
These three grape varieties were chosen in the 19th century. At this time we are trying to improve the quality of champagne wines. To do this, a selection is made between the different grape varieties and only the most quality plants are kept. Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Meunier are chosen because they stand out for their balance between sugar and acidity, their richness of taste and their good capacity for foaming.
This grape variety represents 38% of the Champagne vineyards and is cultivated on more than 13,000 Ha. Pinot noir is a prestigious grape variety, cultivated since the Middle Ages. France is the world's leading producer.
Its name comes from the appearance of its clusters: its bluish-black color is characteristic. The grapes are quite small and oval in shape. Its bunches, quite thin and compact, suggest the appearance of a pine cone, hence the name “Pinot”! The grains reveal a sweet, colorless juice, although the skin is very dark. It is the maceration process that will give the color to the wine when the juice comes into contact with the skin.
Perfectly adapted to limestone and cool soils, it is the main grape variety of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. It is an early grape variety, meaning it ripens quickly.
Wines made from this grape variety are distinguished by aromas of red fruits such as cherry, blackberry or raspberry. After oxidation, its taste will deviate towards aromas more centered on leather and undergrowth. It is mainly recognized by its power and roundness. Pinot Noir brings body and power to the blend.
Meunier or Pinot Meunier, is a black grape variety resulting from the mutation of Pinot Noir. It is a grape variety of white grapes with black skin., not to be confused with grains which produce a dark juice. Long remaining in the shadow of Pinot Noir, it now has vintages of its own.
It is found on nearly 11,300 Ha in all four corners of the world, particularly in Germany and Australia. It is also used in Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It represents 32% of the Champagne vineyards, or nearly 9,000 Ha. It is a vigorous grape variety and less affected by frost than the other two, due to the later opening of its buds. It is found in more clayey terroirs such as those of the Marne Valley, or in more difficult climatic conditions.
Its name comes from the whitish color of the underside of its young leaves and buds, which recalls the whiteness of flour.
Its clusters are small to medium in size and form a slightly conical cylinder, in which the grains are packed together. They give abundant juice. It brings roundness to Champagne wines.
It produces wines that evolve a little more quickly over time, which offers great Champagnes that can be stored for a long time.
The wine that Meunier produces is not very colorful and has little alcohol content, especially compared to Pinot Noir. Le Meunier develops supple and fruity wines, often acidic, with aromas of characteristic delicious yellow fruits. It brings roundness to the assembly.
Chardonnay represents 31% of the vineyard. It is the king grape variety of the Côte des Blancs. The only white grape variety among the three most common in the Champagne blend, it has small, bright yellow grapes. The softness of this color allows the wine to have a fresh note, with a slight delicacy.
It is a vigorous and early grape variety. It is particularly suitable for terroirs with exposed chalk, such as those of the Côte des Blancs. However, it is capable of adapting to many soils, which is why it is found almost everywhere in the world. It is cultivated more and more in America (75,000 Ha), but also in Australia (30,000 Ha) and in South Africa (8,000 Ha).
Chardonnay grains produce juice in large quantities. The aromas that they will give to the wine will be linked to specificities and local conditions.
It gives the champagne great freshness and good length in the mouth. This grape variety produces a fairly sweet wine, even if it maintains a good sweet-acid balance, which makes it a balanced wine with powerful aromas.
Wines made from this grape variety are characterized by delicate aromas, floral and sometimes mineral notes. Citrus notes are also often cited, such as grapefruit or lemon. It is a slow-growing grape variety, ideal for aging wines.
Champagnes are predominantly white, even when the grape varieties from which they are produced are black. We have already seen that in reality, even when its skin is black, the juice of Champagne grapes is always white. It is by letting the skin of the grapes macerate in the juice that the latter will become colored.
Discover our Blanc de Blancs
For lovers of finesse and delicate subtlety. This 100% Chardonnay champagne has impeccable softness and length on the palate.
And Rosé champagne?
Rosé champagne is made from the same grape varieties as white champagne. Its color comes from one of two methods following:
- maceration: we leave the musts to macerate for a few hours with the skins of the grapes which will color the juice
- assembly: These Rosé champagnes are made from a clear white wine, which is blended with a Champagne red wine.
Discover our Rosé de Saignée
Sensual, our rosé surprises with its color and dazzles with its intense taste. Its assertive character will delight connoisseurs and amaze beginners.
The champagne label gives information on the blend of these grape varieties:
- "White of Whites": wine made only from white grape varieties. The Blanc de Blancs Champagne will be made only with Chardonnay.
- " White and black " : wine made from black grape varieties. The champagne will then be made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grape varieties.
- Champagne called “traditional”: this champagne is obtained thanks to the marriage of three grape varieties.
Discover our Brut Tradition
Deliciously fruity, energetic, refreshing and easy to drink, it is the essential champagne, the safe bet. Never will a classic champagne tickle your taste buds so much.
What are the other Champagne grape varieties?
The specifications for the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée "champagne" only authorize the use of seven grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
The first three take the lion's share, representing more than 99% of the grape varieties in Champagne. The bottom four share the remaining 1%.
Finally, if sparkling white wine is the most famous and prestigious of the region's wines, there is red wine in Champagne.
Indeed, as soon as there are black grapes, we can make red wine. This is the case of Coteaux Champenois, which exists in white, rosé and red.
There you go, you now know everything about the different Champagne grape varieties.
The three main grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Meunier and the only white grape variety, Chardonnay, will give the champagnes subtle or powerful aromas, a fruity or more mineral taste depending on the balance chosen!
It's now up to you to choose if you want a rather round or more powerful champagne, if you are looking for aromas of red fruits or a certain acidity, a Blanc de Blancs or a Tradition.... You now have the cards in hand to make your choice from the abundance of diverse and varied champagnes available to you!